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Social Distance, Social Distance, Social Distance!

By Allison G. Lee
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

In theory, when Harvard and other colleges closed their dormitories, going home — or petitioning to stay on campus — was a choice. As many demonstrated, you could just as easily board a flight to Miami, the Bahamas, or Cancun and live it up shoulder to shoulder — forget six feet — with college students from all fifty states. As one now infamous, then shirtless Miami bacchant put it, “If I get corona, I get corona.”

The impulse to party like there’s no tomorrow makes sense; this crisis — in light of climbing death tolls and a tumbling stock market — makes it easy to feel utterly unhinged. Yet it has now become abundantly clear that packed beaches have had dire consequences. In the wake of spring break — to take the most obvious example — Florida’s coronavirus cases surged, only adding to the terrifying acceleration in the virus’ spread. The United States now has more reported coronavirus cases than any other country; over three million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits; and hospitals, faced with staggering equipment shortages, have found themselves rationing care.

The only responsible way for us as young people to conduct ourselves during this crisis is to strongly limit our social interactions: to avoid going to restaurants, large gatherings, and to connect with friends and loved ones online rather than in person.

To begin with, we owe this to ourselves. While young people may feel invincible, we are still very much at risk. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly 20 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 have been 20 to 44 years old. This week an infant died after testing positive for COVID-19. These tragedies should encourage us to commit fully to social distancing.

But we also owe this much to the populations most actively endangered: the elderly, those with preexisting conditions, and those with weakened immune systems. In particular, this is an opportunity to demonstrate the necessity of intergenerational solidarity. Just as coronavirus disproportionately leads to fatality in older age groups, there are issues such as climate change that will ultimately have a larger impact on younger generations. And just as we challenge older adults to take action to mitigate the risks of global warming, we must act to protect older generations from the threat of this virus.

Young people can be leaders in their communities. Those of us who’ve headed home return to communities with varying degrees of acceptance of this crisis. Though more than half of Americans are now under state or local stay-at-home orders, horror stories of people hosting coronavirus-themed parties and church services attended by over 1,200 people persist. Through practicing social distancing, we have the chance to lead by example in the communities we care about most.

We sympathize with students who want to maintain a degree of normalcy and freedom in their lives. These are weird and trying times. However, in light of an ethical imperative to modify our way of life, we’re tasked with finding other ways to stay sane and exercise freedom. Going on walks, experimenting with new recipes, and picking up an instrument are all still fair game. So is public service. We encourage students in search of something to do to consider assisting in or even starting a mutual-aid network and other relief efforts in your area. Such efforts may include donating to food banks and homeless shelters, assisting elderly and immunosuppressed neighbors in stocking up on necessities, and fostering vital lines of communication.

Coronavirus has forced us all to make choices that are far from ideal. Our individual, in-the-moment responses to this rapidly evolving crisis may not have been perfect. But we can all now take personal responsibility for mitigating our contribution to coronavirus’s spread. The moment demands this of us, and to do anything less would prove catastrophic. We can’t change the past, and the future, too, is uncharted and unwieldy. But we can each stay home and do our share today.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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