Just under a million pennies would be a nice sum, but it would be heavy.
Just under a million total US deaths from COVID so far, devastatingly sad.
Just under a million new cases of COVID-19 in the US this week.
Considering we were breaking 5 million cases per week in January, just under a million cases in a week is a good sign. It’s more than a 40% decrease from last week. If this keeps up, we can hope for another summer lull, before the next school year surge. We could all use a break, a million pennies, and a COVID-free century.
There are many steep staircases both in the building where I work and outside on my campus walks from the parking lot and to the lecture halls. I climb at least a hundred steps every day on my old legs while my wimpy lungs struggle for breath under my KN95 mask. About once a week, early in the morning while the place is still quiet, I hold my breath under my mask and press the button with my elbow and take the elevator for a three-story ride up. If someone gets on with me, I get off silently. I give up. I wheeze up the steps under my mask. This morning I was not silent.
The elevator stopped just one floor up, two to go. The doors opened on a young, unmasked face.
I said, “Do you mind waiting for the next one?”
She said, “Oh, I have a mask in here somewhere,” as she blew breath into the elevator, stepped toward me, and unzipped a bookbag pocket.
I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and said, “OK. I’ll walk,” and pushed past her.
“Fine by me,” she breezed in, still unmasked, and let the old lady walk. She certainly enjoyed the ride up one flight and wore her mask only when someone insisted all day long. Masks probably make her break out, and she likes to show her new lip gloss. Maybe her granddaddy told her not to get vaccinated and her roommate already had COVID last month anyway. Perhaps she had a sore throat yesterday but didn’t get tested because she didn’t want to miss a quiz. She’s probably sick of the whole damn pandemic and thinks adults are just carried away with their stupid worry about the 900,000 dead people and the ever-growing body count.
Not all 20-year-olds behave this way. Most wear their masks indoors as required and would have let the old lady have the ride alone. The rude ones take up all the air in the room and all the energy in the universe. They wear me down and make me sad. Their grandmothers don’t know they behave like this.
They also spread airborne COVID. They don’t care at all. They probably won’t pay the price for their behavior. They won’t even give it a thought until they are old. By then, I’ll be dead so I won’t care either.
I’m not just tired. I’m not just sad. I’m also angry. Their actions effect their peers who miss labs and quizzes and lectures and tests because of being infected by them. Grades slip. Scholarships are lost. Stress increases. Sleep diminishes. Mental health suffers. Future paths change. All because a selfish person defied the rules set to protect others and breathed everywhere.
COVID is a symptom of this pandemic. Humans are the reason it won’t end.
But, hey, only 1.7 million newly sick Americans this week.
Almost 5 million new cases of COVID-19 in the US during this 106th week of this pandemic brought our 2022 total in less than one month to our first-year total cases from 2020. No other country can come close to our world records, so Americans just keep breaking through with new PRs (personal records, a runner’s term).
We are still on track to break the 2021 case total in a few weeks, but the glimmer-of-hope good news is that case numbers came down about 11% this week. Maybe we’re on the downslope of this hellish surge and we can delay beating 2021 by a week or so.
My students come to lecture armed with backpacks and phones and notebooks and laptops and model kits and colored pencils. I bring a Mac and iPad and Crayon and connecting cords and laser pointer and wipes and hand sanitizer and paper and pens and a plan. The only thing weird are the masks.
They sit in pairs or alone with empty seats around them. I wipe the mouse and keyboard and podium and table before I pull out my gear. I hang my staticky coat on a doorknob and lean my umbrella against the wall. I pull at the ear straps to tighten my N95 and watch the clock so I start right at the minute. As the final seconds before lecture tick away I think about reactions and mechanisms and pop quizzes and resonance and formal charges and elementary steps and proton transfers. Everything in my head pushes COVID into a little corner. The beast shrinks down from an ogre to a mouse so I can concentrate on something else for 75 minutes.
I begin by declaring it’s time to start. I point out any visible noses in the room and remind those noses not to take in or give back any unfiltered air. I remind the snackers no food or drink in lecture (so they keep their noses in and stay protected behind their masks). I punch down the COVID pest again to make him tame and quiet, and I begin.
While I teach my brain does a dozen things at once. Focus on the material. Talk about it and why it’s relevant and connected to what we knew before. Write while I talk. Preview. Draw while I talk. Pause to let them catch up on drawing structures and mechanism arrows. Explain. Do an example. Read their nonverbal response (from just their eyes, eyebrows, and foreheads). Clarify with colors. Ask for questions. Think about answers to those questions by trying to tease out the misconception from the five words of the question. Answer what I think the question meant. Thank the student for asking the question and provide other details about other possible misconceptions. Advance the slide. Start the next topic. Check the time. Find the password for the pop quiz. Think ahead to what’s next, when is the exam, how far should we get today, is there time for another example? should I show the whole mechanism or just talk through it? is there time for students to try a problem? is my TA getting this idea for the recitation follow-up and quiz? did I remember to take a picture for contact tracing? have we laughed yet? should I let this class get ahead of the other class? call out the slipped mask under the visible nose, provide a more complicated example and work through it, provide another and ask them to help me work through it, provide another and tell them to work together, show the answer and ask for discussion, wonder who is paying the tuition for the kids who are playing on their phones and whether those payers know their student does not pay attention at all in class, give the pop quiz, make a silly comment to make them remember something important, smile behind my mask while they laugh at me, check the time, teach one more concept, look ahead to the next lecture, declare that’s all the time we have and have a good weekend, thank them for coming to class, pack up while answering last minute questions, remember COVID (looming and relentless at my shoulder), wipe the podium and everything I touched, wonder when cleaning supplies will be provided so I don’t have to bring my own, remember why cleaning supplies are important, hope the spread was minimal, tighten my mask, pack up all the entropy I created, clear out for the next professor, wonder if those plexiglass sneeze guards are coming soon, check email on my phone while I walk back to my office and read about more sick students.
Teaching in person is the riskiest part of my workday. I leave each class certain I have picked up the virus and am now contagious. I tighten my mask and share less than 5% of my breath so I don’t spread potential sickness to my next class. And I get tested every week.