Victoria Empathy Column

With coronavirus restrictions starting to be lifted across the country, it looks like the year of isolation is coming to an end for the United States. But don’t think for a second it means the pandemic is over.

Unless you’re living under a rock, I’m sure you’re aware almost 40 states across the country have returned to “business as usual.” While Pennsylvania has not yet lifted its mask mandate, capacity restrictions and social distancing measures across the state have now been eased. Meanwhile, my home state of Massachusetts lifted all coronavirus restrictions on May 29.

“I’m so glad things are finally back to normal,” I overheard my coworkers saying the first day they could come into work without face coverings. Across social media, I began to see the same sentiment.

This is when I realized that maybe I had a different definition of “normal” than most people.

To the average person, “normal” never really meant the end of the disease, the deaths and living in constant fear. Instead, “normal” meant the end of wearing a small piece of cloth over their face, capacity limits in their favorite bar and the general inconvenience of social distancing.

People weren’t wearing the masks or following guidelines because it was the right thing to do — only because it was mandated. Often, they wouldn’t even do it then.

Call me naive, but over the past year and a half, I have been continually let down by my fellow man for ignoring guidelines and spreading misinformation about this virus.

I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease and an irregular heartbeat since middle school, and I know what I need to avoid to live a mostly normal life: roller coasters, caffeine, cold medicine and life-threatening illnesses.

Because of my conditions, I’m at a higher risk of being hospitalized for the coronavirus, and I have a greater chance of dying from it than most others my age. I’m fully vaccinated now, but for almost a year I lived in constant fear of contracting the virus and dying. The disregard for others’ wellbeing I saw at Penn State this year certainly did not help.

I imagine people never cared about following guidelines around me due to the fact that I don’t “look sick,” as though everyone with a heart condition is supposed to wear a hospital gown and carry around an IV on wheels at all times.

Back in January, before I received my vaccine, I asked another student sitting near me in the HUB to put her mask on while she was coughing.

“Why don’t you just worry about yourself?” she yelled back at me.

I was going to say that by asking her to put her mask on, I was, in fact, worrying about myself. But confrontation has never been my strong suit. I never asked anyone to put on a mask ever again.

I imagined college students would be more considerate of others, but I’ve since learned that many people of all ages are simply incapable of seeing the benefit of something that isn't instantly gratifying or beneficial to themselves. This is exactly why Penn State has started using lotteries to incentivize vaccines: because “prevent those around you from dying” wasn’t incentive enough.

Everything — college students continuing to attend huge parties at the height of the pandemic, Penn State needing to bribe people with lottery tickets to get their vaccines, the belief that normalcy means not wearing a mask — it all boils down to a lack of empathy.

I wish the pandemic brought to light the good in humanity, but instead it only showed our culture’s narcissism, where we are essentially taught that our own personal inconveniences should be prioritized over the wellbeing of the whole. When others are suffering, you can ignore that, because at least you aren’t.

Enjoy your vaccinated summer safely. But don’t go around saying the pandemic is over because you don’t need to wear your mask or worry about yourself getting sick anymore. We need to acknowledge that until the cases, hospitalizations and deaths go down to zero — until the suffering ends — it isn’t over.

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