OPINION: Claremont is not your personal playground

A blue disposable mask hangs from the branch of a tree.
Uma Nagarajan-Swenson SC ’22 argues that students who recently moved to Claremont must respect their new communities by preventing the spread of COVID-19. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

A Wednesday TSL article, “5C students in Claremont navigate pandemic pods, partying,” only reinforced an uneasy feeling I was waiting to confirm. I am writing this to ask students living in Claremont to act as if you care about the community you are now a part of. I, along with many of you, read the article about Halloween parties, and from word of mouth, I realized that “breaking pods” is much more far-reaching than even these articles described.

I’m not saying any of this to put myself on a pedestal but rather to draw attention to the disturbing trend of blatant disregard for one’s community which has become more and more apparent as the semester and the pandemic have raged on.

I know the psychological impact of this pandemic is unbearable. We’re all in what should be our prime, feeling lonely and missing out. I’m living at home with my at-risk parents, sibling and turtle. I miss my friends and my life; I miss my professors; I miss the library; I even miss getting sweated on at Dom’s Lounge on Friday nights. I, along with countless others, am struggling with mental illness compounded with isolation and pandemic anxiety.

That is absolutely no excuse to act irresponsibly, though. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s a privilege to be living with your friends in your college town. There is no reason to be hosting or attending parties or breaking your pod, regardless of test results — using tests that could be going to essential workers, at that — until this virus is gone from this country.

California’s cases are spiking along with the rest of America’s, and the vast majority of those are consolidated in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, right where Claremont resides. The state just hit 1 million total cases, San Bernardino had a daily record of 1,733 cases on Nov. 17 and hospitalizations statewide are going up.

There are heavy implications of taking risks, be it partying or breaking your pod, within Claremont as well. As a student described in the article, Claremont is “the old person city.” By now, we know that the older one is, the more at risk one is for serious illnesses, complications and death from COVID-19.

Your actions are not without consequences, and the community you’re harming is one that you know. Your professors, your deans and their families live in and around Claremont. As the pandemic has gone on, I’ve heard more and more worries about the actions of students spilling over to a rise of cases in Claremont, and those worries are materializing. You should care about your community regardless, though. 

Not only that, but many of the communities surrounding Claremont — Pomona, Upland, Montclair, Ontario — are home to high numbers of low-income and BIPOC folks who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and its effects. A lack of accessible healthcare — exacerbated by students’ use of tests and potentially filling much-needed hospital beds — only compounds these issues.

Students in and around Claremont have caught and spread COVID-19 at the aforementioned parties, harming not only themselves and the people at the parties but also an unknown number of members of the vulnerable communities around them. These actions are not only entitled and irresponsible, but they show blatant disregard for others’ well-being. There is no excuse.

Of course, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy hasn’t materialized, because we’re still living through a pandemic. I was particularly disturbed by a student’s mention of “individual survival mode” to justify seeing others for emotional fulfillment. In this pandemic, I daresay that making sure you’re not killing others in a community in which you are a guest is the sole survival that ought to be prioritized.

So I’ll say it again: Students who moved to Claremont for the semester, please remember that you are a guest in this community. Your actions have consequences, and this town is not your playground. You may come and go, but you have the potential to give others a chronic illness and spread a deadly virus. These are lifelong, or maybe even life-ending, impacts. No amount of social fulfillment is worth this risk. 

Uma Nagarajan-Swenson SC ’22 is a guest writer majoring in politics. She’s living with her family (including a baby turtle) in the Bay Area.

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