I called my mom on Tuesday before spring break knowing she would be upset. She planned to drive from our hometown of Austin, Texas, all the way to Missoula to go skiing, see her old friends and spend some time with her oldest son (me).
“It doesn’t look good,” I said. “I think it is time to hunker down for a while.”
I live in Knowles Hall on the University of Montana campus. It has been my home for the last six months, and despite the cramped rooms and shared bathrooms, I enjoy living here.
I planned to stay in Missoula for the break so I could relax and take a week off. I was not expecting to live through the beginning of a global pandemic, which recorded tens of thousands of cases in the U.S., and new cases daily in Montana.
In my Thursday morning philosophy class, all my classmates received an email detailing our new remote learning program. The original email announced UM would move to remote delivery, and a March 18 email confirmed it would be for the rest of the semester.
The rest of that Thursday blurred, it didn’t feel real.
Some of my friends packed up and left campus, my teachers emailed me to tell me how to use the Zoom app, and on top of that, the Food Zoo decided it would be fun to throw a party for ducks amid a global pandemic. Ugh.
I realized all my break plans were canceled Thursday night, and I was stuck on campus with a lot of free time. It was time to sit back and ride out the impending COVID-19 wave.
I read a fair amount about the Coronavirus before it got to the States. Social distancing helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in many case studies of Italian towns.
So I cut off some habits. My grandma, who lives in town, takes me out to get food once every couple of weeks. Though she is healthy at age 71, COVID-19 can still ravage a person’s respiratory system, so I told her it would be best for me to stay on campus awhile.
Not everyone in Knowles decided to take precautions. A student on my floor, who I am calling TJ, spent his first weekend of the break downtown at the bars.
“Yeah, I let like 20 people hit my PuffBar last night at Stocks,” TJ said, grinning as if he did something really cool. “It doesn’t even matter, there aren’t even cases in Montana.”
When he made that comment on March 14, there were 6 confirmed cases in the state.
It’s concerning to me that so many young people don’t care about the scope of the virus and how it could destroy our national infrastructures.
Some of my friends back in Texas went to the crowded Gulf of Mexico beaches, where thousands of people interacted with each other despite CDC recommendations to social distance.
Back on campus, the dorms took a small dip into chaos. Skateboards rolled over my head as the third floor practiced tricks at 2:30 in the morning. Cigarettes became the normal nighttime ritual, and my hands cracked from the cold wind and constant handwashing.
With the Food Zoo closed for the entirety of break, and the UC’s limited hours, combined with many restaurants restricting or shutting down, I didn’t know what to eat. I went to Albertsons and bought as many frozen dinners that could fit in my dorm fridge, which turned out to be three.
Though I was not eating how I used to, I appreciated that UM did not close. Its facilities and services keep me well, and it is not easy balancing student comfort with a pandemic that can and probably will reach campus.
I plan to stay on campus for the rest of the semester. Texas looms 1800 miles away, and I could probably live in my old room despite my parents turning it into a home gym. But I still want to work my job at the Kamin, both in writing and delivering the paper to people.
At the end of the week, I’ve concluded that I was okay, that campus will still support me, and that we must join together to better Missoula and the University of Montana.
Whether you brave the storm on campus or in your home, we can all take action to mitigate the spread of the virus and get UM back to normal operations.