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COVID-19 reality today – enough of yesterday’s hysteria

April 29, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Editor’s Note 05/10/2021 at 2:19 p.m.: Due to glitches that were allowing comments in violation of the Orient’s policy to appear below without having been approved, commenting has been disabled for this article. Comments that previously appeared that violate the policy have been removed. Commenting policies can be found at https://bowdoinorient.com/policies/. 

Zoe Becker

I am disappointed and disheartened by the Orient’s April 16 editorial, “A Risk We Don’t Condone.” In this piece, the Editorial Board argues against the decision by Bowdoin’s administration to resume limited intercollegiate varsity athletic competition. The Editorial Board argues that the benefits from such a policy are “wildly unequal, applying to only a tiny subset of the student population on campus [varsity athletes],” while the risk of COVID-19 infection caused by intercollegiate games, meets and matches is shared by the entire Bowdoin community. I believe the assertions in this piece warrant additional attention, and I believe more broadly that Bowdoin students and administrators need to rethink our collective approach to COVID-19 in the remaining weeks of the semester.

First, the fundamental premise of the Board’s position is simply wrong. Allowing athletic competition is not a radical policy that privileges the few at the expense of many. Thirty-six percent of Bowdoin College students are varsity athletes—a far cry from the “tiny subset of the student population” referenced by the board. The administration enacted a simple policy amendment, after painstaking consideration, that shifted Bowdoin’s approach to athletics so that it aligned more closely with the vast majority of colleges and universities across the United States. In doing so, the administration dramatically improved the college experience of a large segment of the student body. The main argument of the Editorial Board’s article is an unfortunate attempt to stoke athlete/non-athlete divisions, yet one shamefully disguised as a self-righteous call for equality.

The reality is that the NESCAC belongs to a small minority of athletic conferences that made no effort to allow athletic competition in the winter or spring seasons. When case rates began improving in March as the pace of vaccine distribution ramped up, Bowdoin administrators were among the slowest in the conference to amend their original policy and allow some forms of non-conference athletic competition. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. No one could have predicted how the pandemic would evolve so far in advance. And although Bowdoin’s overly cautious approach frustrated many of its student-athletes as more schools returned to competition and more data became available, I am grateful that when the administration finally did realize athletic competitions could be safely executed, they reversed their prior policy and rightfully allowed Bowdoin teams to begin competing against those at other colleges and universities. On a personal note, the administration’s decision, however delayed, gave me the opportunity to play one final hockey game after a 20-year career. I did so as my family watched remotely from home, eternally grateful for the unexpected opportunity to see their son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin compete one last time in the sport he loves.

The Board’s cost-benefit analysis of varsity teams competing at other campuses is also flawed and unsupported by facts. Such an avoidance of statistical evidence is at best intellectually lazy and at worst dishonest. Incredibly, the board’s only mention of empirical data is a passing acknowledgement that “there has not been a significant number of COVID-19 cases on campus” to date. Despite the positive news thus far, the risk of COVID-19 remains, the Board argues—without attempting to assess or quantify the risk. The Board’s failure to support its position with facts and science is no different than anti-maskers’ claim that the pandemic is a big hoax.

In reality, we have finally reached the point in our nation’s long, arduous journey with COVID-19 where risks need to be drastically recalculated. As of this writing, 55 percent of Maine residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Those who haven’t received the vaccine are largely young children who are at the lowest risk (nearly zero) of hospitalization or death. What’s more, the rolling seven-day average of COVID-19 related deaths in Maine is one. That’s right: one person. With regards to more Bowdoin-relevant statistics, according to the CDC, for every 100,000 people between the ages of 18-29 years old infected with COVID-19, 20 die, on average. This is equal to a death rate of 0.02 percent. To put that into context, your car ride to Hannaford to pick up your weekend groceries, your Sunday swim at Simpson’s Point and everyday activities during any ordinary flu season all put you, as a college-aged student, at greater risk of death than COVID-19.

Earlier in the pandemic, it was vitally important that younger members of society restrict their activities. While an 18-year-old hockey player who contracted the virus at a game might not have been at high-risk of hospitalization or death, there remained an appreciable risk he could infect his parents, grandparents or any other at-risk member in the community. With the astonishing rate at which vaccines have been distributed over the past several months, this risk has been all but eliminated. Today, the people who are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated, if they want to be. This has led to plummeting hospitalization and death rates in Maine and across the nation.

Over the past year, we have undergone the most radical and abrupt changes to our lifestyles that could ever have been envisioned. As the Editorial Board correctly points out, everyone has had to make sacrifices during this extraordinary time. Whether you have sacrificed playing the sport you treasure, spending time with elderly loved ones or embarking on the spring break trip of your dreams, each one of us has been forced to make profound changes in our lives for the betterment of society. And rightfully so—for the greater portion of the pandemic, we knew very little about the virus and had very few mechanisms to treat it or immunize against it. It made sense to go to extreme precautionary lengths to protect those in society who were most at-risk from succumbing to the virus. Now, however, the calculus has changed dramatically. Thanks to the miraculous ingenuity of several pharmaceutical companies, we are finally approaching the exit to this dismal, dark and discouraging tunnel that we have been traveling down for the past year. If that’s not something to smile at, I don’t know what is.

As a senior graduating this spring, one of my greatest disappointments in how Bowdoin campus culture has evolved during my four years is the widening of the athlete/non-athlete divide. Pieces like the one published by the Editorial Board do nothing to help shrink this gap and only exacerbate the tensions between athletes and non-athletes on campus. No administrator, ResLife staff member or Peer Health counselor can change this aspect of the Bowdoin experience. Only students can. Athlete or non-athlete, senior or sophomore, Moulton-lover or Thorne-lover—instead of using COVID-19 to further divide us, why can’t we all just appreciate the progress we have collectively made in navigating this pandemic and celebrate the milestones along the road back to normalcy? We’ve been fighting this battle long enough. It’s about time we stop trying to pull us back to where we’ve been and instead start looking ahead to where we’re going.

Collin van der Veen is a member of the Class of 2021.

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Comments

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39 comments:

  1. Student says:

    Oh sweetie, your privilege and ignorance are showing 🙂

  2. Joe says:

    Amazing insight,Colin! I tried to support your claims in a comment on the original opinion piece, but of course the staff refused to post my words. Probably because it went against their opinion — classic NESCAC hypocrisy! My advice for all all NESCAC athletes — get out now. According to students, admin and professors, You are not “smart” enough to be on the same campus. It’s fine when non athletes use connections or financial standing to gain advantages, but god forbid an athlete do the same.
    – full financial aid two sport NESCAC alum

  3. Philosophy Major ‘21 says:

    You mention vaccinations of at-risk people, but Maine only prioritized for age, so the very first Bowdoin students who got vaccinated, which happened on the very first day that Mainers under 60 were eligible to be vaccinated, only received their second doses earlier this week, making them, as per Mike Ranen’s emails, still not fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, games have been happening for weeks. In terms of risk, 36% of students are athletes- how many of those athletes are actually on campus, and therefore eligible to compete? Additionally, how can we morally weigh the risk of extracurricular activity versus life, especially considering that young people do still have severe side effects, or “long COVID,” after contracting the virus. How will this effect future gameplay?

    Ask yourself: why does questioning COVID safety cause divide and, in your words, “hysteria” but not the other way around? Who is really creating the divide?

    • Student '21 says:

      Great comment, Not a! Seems like you really know what you’re talking about. You must be gearing up to absolutely crush your finals with your truly remarkable mind.

  4. Patrick Mungovan says:

    An incredibly well thought out and effectively delivered piece. It would be beneficial to the whole country if everyone were to read this. Excellent work.

  5. Class of 21' says:

    lol. Is this a joke?

  6. Actually Athletic says:

    Man, shut the fuck up.

  7. Class of 2023 says:

    Talking about a piece widening the athlete/non-athlete divide and saying that non-athletes being upset over athletes being granted the privilege to travel and practice with larger groups of people is “widening the divide” is rich. I agree that athletes should be allowed to compete at this point, but I think the move to let them do so with no furthering of non-athlete permissions will create friction and widen the gap.

    Feels weird to get all this messaging about staying vigilant and strict about COVID policies while a group of campus gets expanded privileges. It’s particularly ironic in wake of the Harpswell incident.

    • class of 2021 says:

      It’s definitely understandable that athletes being granted the privilege to travel/compete seems like a privilege that non-athletes don’t have at Bowdoin. However- Mike Ranen/Bowdoin approved travel to NE states for curriculum/class purposes & work purposes in March, as well, so it’s not a one-sided privilege, and it’s one that non-athletes may have the opportunity to enjoy if they have an activity that requires some sort of travel. Additionally, most sports teams at Bowdoin aren’t competing, just practicing, and if they are, they’ve played against teams with similarly stringent testing protocols (and Bowdoin’s testing protocols are among the strictest in our league and country).
      So, it would feel weird if they got expanded privileges but turns out that both non-athletes and athletes have received this specific travel privilege… Athletic games have been scheduled for as long as Bowdoin sports have existed and therefore might be more easily scheduled than a class field trip during a pandemic, but a travel privilege was, in fact, extended to both athletes and non-athletes 🙂

    • Concerned Commentor says:

      Did Class of 2021 in the response compare a rarely used stipulation afforded to students in certain very narrow class work times as an equal equivalent to a provision that loosens guidelines on 36% of students? Has anyone heard an example of where that class work use has been used? Or did I read or misunderstand that incorrectly. Apologies if I did, I’m not a part of the “silent majority”

    • Broken-hearted in the Broken Bubble says:

      Concerned Commentator, I don’t think you’re wrong at all. There are plenty of other extracurricular and curricular activities that would benefit from travel but haven’t done so out of respect for the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities. Testing is important, but it doesn’t equal automatic safety, especially when certain students are paying people to take their tests for them. Also, if sports teams are “just practicing” then why can’t they practice on campus? That really takes away from 2021’s argument, I can see the desire to compete but breaking the “bubble” just to practice? I feel like that can’t be right, there’s just no way that any rational person would believe that adding a few new faces to a practice is worth a human life.

    • Concerned Athlete says:

      Hi Class of 2021! Just wanted to share that these same provisions are not being expanded to the entire student body. For example, very competitive and highly successful club sports, like Bowdoin Rowing, are not eligible to compete in this time. Only Varsity Athletics have been afforded this privilege. Rowing is also a sport where teams are separated entirely and there is no close contact. However it appears that Bowdoin’s hockey scrimmage with Colby involved mixing teams and wearing jerseys that seemed to mock the disease COVID itself. While many of us lose family members and fear for our own lives if we have preexisting conditions, I’m so unbelievably glad that the priority went to allowing athletics to travel out of state to schools with hundreds of COVID cases before a single student was fully vaccinated : )

    • Class of '22 says:

      The use of “silent majority” seems like maybe an unnecessary/emotionally charged stretch? It’s a weak retort, at best, and seems like an attempt at diminishing 2021’s answer through the use of a buzz word. If you’re so threatened by someone’s argument that you decide you must call them a Trump supporter, you probably should rethink how you approach intellectual debate. It seems like quite a bit of anger is misplaced towards Collin/student-athletes. I believe 2021 was only addressing the issue of privilege of travel, which was, in some shape or form, issued to all students at Bowdoin. It’s not the men’s hockey team nor any sports team’s fault that there is little academic related travel atm. To say a priority went to student-athletes is feeding into a feud that is incredibly misguided, because the burden is placed on students rather than the administration to ameliorate this divide that no student-athlete wants to be a part of. A final point, none of Bowdoin’s sports have resulted in community transmission, & a number of DI/professional sports have played without being spreaders. It’s silly & divisive to continue to claim that Bowdoin sports will be a spreader when data shows that’s not true.

    • Concerned Commenter says:

      Hey Class of ‘22, used “silent majority” because of a comment below that used that phrase that someone in the pro-varsity athlete crowd used to describe the pro-varsity crowd.

  8. '23 says:

    Let’s go piece by piece since this is really stupid.

    “36% of us are varsity athletes”
    Not all of the teams are playing games, but even if you were that still is putting a majority of students at risk, not to mention the staff, administrators, and professors that we all interact with, making you a tiny subset.

    “We should have been playing in March/death rate is low”
    In March, literally nobody was vaccinated and Maine was having some of their worst COVID spikes in a while, as was this campus. To say we should have been competing then spits in the face of students who had to come back to campus and were told that they would have a safe bubble. Even if the death rate is low, it is higher for at-risk populations which exist on campus and death is the worst-case scenario but you can also get tons of bad long-term health issues.

    “People hate us”
    Is it really that important to you? Would you really rather risk even one life or one person having a chronic issue to play a sport? Seems silly to me. Only reason people creating divides are pieces like this and Harpswell parties.

    • Who’s the real hysteric? says:

      I absolutely agree. I want to talk more about the 36% number. 36% of what, students normally on campus? What does that number look like if we include people who interact with the student population regularly if not daily? Housekeepers and Security especially, but also everyone working in the Mail Center and professors teaching in person classes? What if we include all faculty and staff in the testing protocol? And what happens to that 36% when we include Brunswick? Sure, we’re in a bubble, but this is a highly communicable virus and I know people go to Hannafords and Walmart, I see the Dunkin cups, the Bay Bowl bags, and the Gelato pics.

      But okay, sure, even if we’re just talking about students, are we not gonna talk about the athletes off campus, and therefore ineligible for participation in athletics this semester? Are we still at 36%? I’ve heard of so many people leaving athletics this year, what’s that number look like? And let’s be honest, how many athletes have left campus, either on their own or post-Harpswell? Cries of “hysteria,” “silent majority,” etc sound big and scary, but it’s just talk and reality speaks louder. COVID isn’t a game.

  9. Ex-athlete says:

    Considering 40 students (mainly athletes) got kicked off campus for attending an athlete hosted off campus party in Harpswell, I fail to find sympathy that your team couldn’t have the spring break of your dreams. Sounds like you are out of touch with the non-athlete/athlete divide.

  10. Sebas Cisneros ‘23 says:

    Wow this is such an eye opening article for me to read. Here I was worrying about my family back home who live in an epicenter of covid spread and without the means to pay for healthcare in case they do get sick, about students in similar situations who risk being exposed daily, and workers on campus who are paid to clean up and take care of the Bowdoin community in the middle of a pandemic. What this article made me realize is that the people who I truly needed to look out for, those who really are burdened by our present situation are hockey players who risk not being able to play the sport they love. When I was listening to campus voices who spoke out about their own fear and anxieties about exposure and outbreaks, I really should’ve been worried about people like you who missed out on going on AWESOME spring break trips. The true solution to all our worries isn’t accountability or reevaluation of athlete’s privilege on campus. It’s actually letting students play sports. Thank you so much for your informative and persuasive essay.

    • Student '22 says:

      THIS!! I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at this warped prioritization from our peers but at the same time… yikes.

  11. Nat Deacon '20 says:

    The weighing of costs and benefits by the Orient’s editorial board and some in the comments section seems to have been completely thrown out of wack by the pandemic. Imagine if last year we were told that there was a disease with a fatality rate of somewhere around .02-.1% for young/middle-aged people and basically 0 old people. I doubt we would have felt it reasonable to cancel all athletic competitions in this case. But, given our current vaccination program, this hypothetical disease is basically what COVID is now (putting aside the anti-vaxxers). Why then, have our evaluation of acceptable risk changed so much?

  12. NARP ‘23 says:

    My heart is aching for the debilitating struggles you faced from… not being able to play hockey competitively? Lmao, if you actually care about ending the “athlete non-athlete divide” maybe you all should stop begging everyone to cry for your lost spring break trips and demanding everyone worship you for playing D3 sports. I’m not seeing any pieces from mock trial or theater people crying about not being able to compete. People are rightfully upset that you all act like it’s your divine right to play contact sports off campus in a pandemic while the rest of us try to do our best to protect our community, especially those at risk. We’re all making sacrifices, and you being unable to play your sport is the least of any real concern I can even imagine.

  13. Class of 2023 says:

    The virus does not agree that we “deserve” a “college experience.” Maybe you feel entitled to what you have lost. That makes sense. But our “long and arduous” journey doesn’t end because it has been long and arduous. I do not want you deciding when it’s been “long enough.”

    We would all be happier if none of this happened, actually. That doesn’t excuse all the work we do to keep each other safe.

  14. Ned Braden says:

    So it took a hockey player to write the finest, most well reasoned editorial that I have read in this publication in over ten years. Bowdoin’s best kept secret is that the athletes lead the pack academically on campus. They will be the alums who will bring the school distinction in medicine, science, finance, law and government.

  15. Concerned community member says:

    Great article Collin! It’s amazing what happens when an article is centered around fact, evidence, and a little bit of common sense, as opposed to another baseless cry for attention in a time where we are all looking to find joy in things like sports than mean so much to so many of us (and, clearly, can be done safely).

    I wish Orient Editorial authors had done their research before writing their misguided piece. If they had, they would have picked up on the (over)extensive measures done by the institutions on gameday to prevent the spread of Covid, including but not limited to antigen testing, social distancing on the bus, and not using visiting locker-rooms. This combined with the science behind playing sports outside (especially while masked!) allow interscholastic competition to be played safely with almost zero risk to the community.

    Thank you for taking the time to speak up as a voice for the silent majority here at Bowdoin to challenge those that attack any who challenge their baseless claims that lack utter common sense.

    • Fellow Lobotomite says:

      A fraction of 36% of the student body isn’t a “Silent majority,” don’t know if you are aware of this

  16. Bowdoin '22 says:

    This article is well written, thoughtful, and respectful. I would echo the sentiment from Patrick Mongovan above. It is far past time that we begin to look forward. While I agree we must not lose sight of the dangers still present, we can simultaneously take educated, safe steps towards “normal” life. This a point, I think, the author makes most clear.

    What is most disappointing and obvious in this comment section is that some have not taken the time to appreciate the effort given to this piece, responding in ways that shed light on the plight we currently face as a community and beyond. At some point, we have to abandon our “pandemic mindset,” and take care to judge the statistics without bias or political inclination. We must act on the science in front of us. This point was most notably demonstrated when 200 fully vaccinated members of Congress continued to wear masks in a mostly empty senate chamber. This, of course, sends a completely distorted message and speaks directly to the authors point.

    I encourage those reading this do so with an open-mind, rather than to dismiss it because it does not fit the moralistic agenda peddled by leftists.

  17. Former athlete says:

    Considering the Harpswell party, athletes didn’t deserve expanded guidelines anyways. We can talk once they mature. Also one vaccine is not immunity and we already have a problem with people not showing up for their second vaccine. Maybe you need to look at actually relevant statistics. Covid isn’t an athlete versus non athlete issue. It impacts all of us. The athletes who refuse to believe that further the divide, not anyone else. And wear a mask when you’re out on your runs. It’s against Bowdoin policy.

    • Reed Baker says:

      Former athlete, this comment is bereft of facts. Yes, vaccines aren’t immunity but they are highly effective. Data from the CDC shows that of the 95 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated, only 967 have died or been hospitalized. Those odds are 0.00001. To suggest that we should remain cautious after been vaccinated because of the 0.00001 percent chance of being hospitalized or dying from COVID is concerning. COVID may, unfortunately, be a part of our lives forever, but we’ve finally made it to a spot where we can safely live with it. The at-risk population has had to opportunity to get vaccinated and most of them have. It is time we get back to living.

    • Class of ‘22 says:

      The Harpswell party has nothing to do with athletic teams competing. If you knew anything about athletics, you would know that none of the athletes that attended that party are on teams that are competing right now. You can’t take the group of people that went to this event and apply their actions to every athlete on campus. The protocols in place for athletic competition make covid transmission highly unlikely.

    • Student ‘22 says:

      https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385

      Please read! No need to wear masks outside if vaccinated and not in close contact with others… thus wearing a mask while running is actually ridiculous. Furthermore, Mayo Clinic advises against wearing a mask if it will get wet… like it would from sweating while running.

  18. Bowdoin Community Member says:

    Excellent article Collin. Ignore the haters – COVID has made them delusional and immune to common sense. Bowdoin, Brunswick, and Maine at large has seriously overreacted to COVID. It’s about time people like you stand up and address the overwrought hysteria. Bravo!

  19. still a student says:

    All I see is angry alums lurking on a college newspaper in the weirdest attempt to go back to their glory days that I’ve ever seen. You know, if you were still students here maybe you’d have read the campus agreement that we all signed. Athletes came to campus understanding that competing might not be possible this semester. It’s not some agenda or wild plan, it’s just facts. Also, very few students are actually fully vaccinated because we are not 60 years old. If you read a news source that wasn’t the Bowdoin Orient, maybe you’d have a sense of Maine’s vaccine roll out.

    • Ned Braden says:

      The hypocrisy of a large percentage of Bowdoin students is stunning. The same folks attacking Mr. van der Veen have little problem supporting the mass gatherings for protests and rioting at a time when no vaccine existed. In fact, the Orient has celebrated students and alums who have joined the protests. The southern border is open and thousands of illegal aliens are pouring into the USA with no masks or vaccinations and not a word of concern at Bowdoin.

    • Dennis Reynolds says:

      Angry alums? Those are the ones that kindly donate to your school and make it possible for a lot of your peers to go to school with financial aid. And shame on them for admiring their sports careers that they worked so hard for right? I’m sorry you couldn’t play sports at the collegiate level and don’t understand the gift of competing with friends and forming relationships that will last a life time. Friendships it seems you haven’t created yet due to your high activity level in this chat. Wanna talk about a weird attempt, the weird attempt is you trying to ruin your own college experience by crying about covid.

    • also an Alum, certainly less washed-up says:

      Hi Ned! What a great example you bring up – that of protesting state-sanctioned murders. For many, the decision to protest was/is not taken lightly (and, frankly, is a decision that nobody wanted to have to make in the first place but one that was/is forced upon us by this white-supremacist society). By comparing this example to the “pig-roast” and other instances of athletes unnecessarily putting the greater community at risk, you do an excellent job of drawing attention to the key differences. Namely, the fact that one of these things is irresponsible, dangerous, and wholly unnecessary, while the other is an essential part of democracy that has implications that far outweigh enjoying a “true college experience” (as Anon wrote… whatever that means). I’ll let you figure out which one is which. Oh, and I’m assuming you didn’t attend a protest (and hoping you didn’t attend the event at Harpswell) but I would wager that COVID precautions were more strictly followed at the protests…. Lastly, “the finest, most well reasoned editorial that [you] have read”… Really? Sure, it’s better-written than the infamous “Brett Kavanaugh” op-ed but I invite you to venture beyond the sports section if you well-written pieces…

  20. Anon says:

    Personally, I read a lot of these replies and feel bad for a lot of you. The ones that insist we live our lives locked up in our depressing and smelly dorm rooms with no opportunity for a true college experience are, to say it how it is, most likely the ones that weren’t getting the invites to the fun social gatherings on campus before covid and are disappointed and jealous to see people making attempts to have fun in this trying year. I beg you stop trying to ruin everyone’s college experiences and athletic careers that they have worked the majority of their lives for. College is four special years of an individuals life – this shouldn’t be a period of time to attempt to politicize and live in fear of a virus that is almost eliminated from our region.

  21. Let’s Wake Up says:

    For the ones making the comments about “D3 sports” and there lack of meaning obviously have never truly been as passionate about anything in their lives to know how horrible it is to see someone discrediting their athletic achievements; who ever is saying such things must feel miserable about themselves. It is just so mind blowing to me that you guys want to live life in fear and continue to be locked up. I really don’t get any of these takes. Isn’t the goal to move out of this pandemic? Sad is an understatement.

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