At the beginning of the semester, my social media feed was filled with pictures of out-of-staters’ views from their airplanes and geotags signifying they had landed in LA. I immediately started to wonder: why would they risk their health and the health of others? Businesses are closed, hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 and cases are rising. I know that some students had to move recently for various reasons, from unsafe living conditions to time zone changes. But during the pandemic, nonessential travel is unacceptable.
Like other current first-year students, I did not have a normal high school graduation or get closure to my high school experience due to the pandemic. I did not get to celebrate these milestones that signified my entrance into adulthood and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I waited for a moment, a feeling, when I would truly feel like an adult — even if it was in my childhood home in LA County.
I started my first year of college during one of the hardest times of my life. My new normal became attending Zoom lectures as though I was okay while I prayed for my mother’s health and safety at her daily radiotherapy treatments. In the midst of a pandemic, my life changed and my mother’s immune system became compromised. I adopted a new, heavy responsibility that I was never prepared for. No amount of self-help podcasts or corny “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books could ever prepare me for the most difficult task of desensitizing myself to my mother’s pain and battle with cancer. Suddenly, I became even warier of my exposure to COVID-19, knowing that my decisions would affect my mother’s health. Errands and runs to the supermarket required extra precautions. Learning to cook decent meals, helping my sisters with household chores and being a pillar of strength for my family became my focus. No one told me to make these decisions. I felt obligated to take on these responsibilities during this unprecedented time. This moment marked my transition into adulthood, where my day-to-day decisions now had weight beyond my personal needs.
Many of us have seen our friends and family fall ill to COVID-19. This is even more of a reality in LA as it has become the epicenter of the global pandemic with a new case emerging every six seconds. As an LA County resident, I’ve seen many of my Black and Latinx friends and family struggle with COVID-19 and even pass away due to COVID-19 related complications. This pandemic has exacerbated racial disparities in health as Latinx account for 55 percent of total COVID-19 cases in California and their death rate is three times that of white communities. With the devastation COVID-19 has brought to Black and Latinx communities, nonessential travel by college students is an insult to the LA communities that continue to struggle with the pandemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the summer, people under the age of 30 in the United States made up more than 20 percent of COVID-19 cases and were more likely than other age groups to transmit the virus to others. Therefore, actions, such as travel, of younger people have a ripple effect that could transmit the virus to Black and Latinx communities already bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
As much as I wanted to escape from the challenges my family was facing, I was confined to my childhood home. I wanted to be 16 years old and wanted my normal life back when all I cared about was my high school prom and imagining what college would be like. But I knew the pandemic presented bigger issues and losses in the communities around me that outweighed my desires. Perhaps, instead of running away from my problems, acting selflessly was a true sign of my maturity. Is adulthood this brutal and unglamorous?
I agree that students facing housing hardships should have access to accommodations for their situation and their hardships should be prioritized, especially by the college. However, I urge college students to only travel in the case of an emergency or if you do not have access to stable housing accommodations. I’d also like to point out that there are options other than moving to the epicenter of a global pandemic. A safer alternative to moving to LA would be moving within your state or moving to a less-populated area with low COVID-19 case counts. While cases soar and LA residents lose loved ones at an alarming pace, it is not the time for those with the privilege of mobility to move to LA simply because they want to explore the area, gain independence or obtain a small amount of a “normal” college experience.
If you have recently moved to Los Angeles for whatever reason, I am begging you to be vigilant. Consider that behind every door is a person who must be protected from COVID-19. Imagine that the grocery store cashier shares a bedroom with their elderly parents. In other words, be an adult. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that I don’t need milestones to define my identity nor my emergence into adulthood. I don’t need to move out to feel like an adult. I don’t have to distance myself from my household to taste the independence and responsibility that comes with adulthood. Consider this: being an adult has everything to do with the thought and care you put into your decisions and nothing to do with where you live. How you navigate this pandemic is the true test of your maturity. Maybe this is what “adulting” is. It’s hard, unexpected and nothing like I imagined.