I woke up Friday, Sept. 18, feeling stressed — significantly more than the usual levels I’ve come to know since mid-March. A friend of a friend had just tested positive for COVID-19, and now it was my turn to go get tested.
I drove straight over to Nova Urgent Care on Coburg Road and sat in my car as I waited to be tested. The nurse brought me inside, swabbed the inside of my nose, careful to avoid my new nose ring that I was excited to show off, and then left me to wait as the 15-minute rapid test decided my fate.
Those minutes passed slowly, but finally, a physician joined me in the room to tell me the news: I was negative.
Relief washed over me. I am from Eugene originally and a student at the University of Oregon. My parents still live in town, and I still see them often, so I was worried. Plus, I’ve been seeing a girl I’m crazy about, but she has an autoimmune disorder on top of a bad history with pneumonia that puts her at high-risk should I pass on the virus. All excited, I went over that evening to her house to spread the good news.
Two days later, I was sitting in that same urgent care with the same physician after experiencing shortness of breath and chills all day Saturday. This go-around he had a new message for me: “So, we got a different result this time.”
I left town that night with my tail between my legs. I am very privileged to have two parents who could drop everything on Sunday and grab enough groceries to feed a village. They left the food in their driveway, I picked up the brown grocery bags and drove two hours to a cabin outside of Sisters my grandparents have owned for more than 30 years.
When I got there, I wallowed in guilt while coughing uncontrollably and guzzling ibuprofen for the splitting headache and chills that had so rudely crept up on me since I first received that negative test. While the symptoms I was feeling were painful, nothing was worse than having to break the news to my friends, family and the girl I liked that I had placed them all in danger.
The guilt I was feeling was well warranted, but the grace of those around me was surprising and welcome. I had messed up, but I remained honest with them from the beginning. As I talked through my timeline with a sweet contact tracer named Jennifer, I realized that what I thought to be safe and careful behavior was anything but that.
Over the past week, I was in contact with multiple different groups of six to 10 close friends. Those numbers add up quickly. So quick, in fact, I still to this day don’t know who I got the virus from. A roommate tested positive the day after me, my good friend’s roommate tested positive, a girl I hugged hello earlier that week tested positive and who knows the number of other possibilities. Long story short, I was now the dumb college kid I like to throw stones at from my ethical high horse.
In a Tuesday, Sept. 22, press conference, Jason Davis, spokesperson for Lane County Public Health, addressed just these types of small gatherings. He said that the rise in cases we are seeing in the county is coming from “very well-intentioned, small gatherings” that lull people into a false sense of safety and keep people from wearing masks.
Ellen Peters, the director of the Center for Science Communication Research at UO, tweets every week about student chances of being in contact with a positive COVID case. Like the approaching horse of the COVID apocalypse, Peters’s tweets get bleaker and bleaker. On Oct. 3, she analyzed the most recent Lane County Public Health data to inform students that when attending a gathering of 10 people, they have a 6 percent chance of being in contact with COVID; in gatherings of 100 UO students, that likelihood increases to 45 percent.
Getting COVID is not cool. Sure, I probably can’t get it again for at least three months, but I also now share a kinship I’d rather not have with President Donald Trump.
Beyond that, getting the virus is dangerous. I am a 22-year-old with no pre-existing conditions that would place me at high risk, and let me tell you, those 10 days of quarantine were riddled with moments of near unconsciousness, trouble breathing and extreme nausea. What if I passed this to someone else? After nearly a week of symptoms, I finally began to feel better. A few days after my last fever, I was able to re-enter society, but after a full week without the virus, I still have an annoying cough and catch in my lungs.
Luckily, that girl I’m seeing tested negative multiple times and is feeling fine, as are my two parents, but the spread does not end there or with me and mine. As of Sept. 30, the 97401 zip code encompassing most off-campus UO students saw a spike of 90 cases over the week before, the largest spike in the state of Oregon — no doubt due to the return of students to campus.
While I am guilty of hanging out with small groups of friends, something dangerous enough on its own, many UO students are partying like it’s 2019. Gatherings of more than 30 people packed into a small campus house are not a rare sight any night of the week. If you don’t believe me, take a stroll down Ferry Street, a few blocks off-campus. Packed crowds indoors with poor ventilation are the perfect conditions for a super spreader event where transmission rates surpass the average rate of transmission. Because of this, 80 percent of cases are caused by just 19 percent of COVID patients, according to research out of Hong Kong.
It is easy to draw the conclusion that a college campus is ripe to produce these dangerous conditions. Cities like Boulder, Colorado, have implemented a ban on all gatherings of people age 18-22 for 14 days starting on Sept. 24.
The ban aimed at University of Colorado students keeps young people from gathering in any way outside of their immediate home. While harsh, measures like these may become necessary to keep young, peer-pressure prone college students from spurring the downfall of the communities they parachute into every fall.
It is hard to understand the consequences of your seemingly harmless actions, until it’s too late. The guilt isn’t worth it, the fever isn’t worth it, and the people around you are depending on you to keep them safe.