Coronavirus is coming to a town near you. Or at least that’s what my physician, the CDC and the man in my county who has it tell me. This doesn’t bode super well for a place like Yale, which boasts students from 123 countries with 92 percent of enrollees coming from out of state. As one friend told me, “We’re all going to get it because we’re all up in each other’s space.”
Indeed, Yalies are not the best at spatial boundaries — just ask that one friend whose common room you’re in all the time. But when we return from break, from God knows where the virus is, we should take the time to reevaluate how we may be encroaching on others’ health by not adhering to personal boundaries. This is not just about Corona. We as students need to do better at respecting each other and the spaces we share.
Let’s start with the obvious: washing our hands. For a place filled with so many smart people, the number of people who don’t adhere to the single most important discovery of modern medicine is a bit disconcerting. I get it can seem impractical to take a detour directly to the bathroom sink before going into the dining hall, but I’d estimate it’s probably very few of us who use the little Purell stations before eating.
Don’t come at me with facts about how hand sanitizer only fights bacteria — first, Purell is made with 70 percent alcohol, so it works against some viruses and, second, are we really happy with letting the bacteria on our hands fight another day?
Look, if it was only you that got sick when you’re ill, I’d say live your life and take the risks you want. But the dining halls are self-serve, meaning we all touch the same utensils to get our food. So, it’s not just your health at risk when you don’t wash your hands before eating. If you preach for policies that call for individuals to pay more for the greater good or sacrifice convenience for sustainability, then you should be living by that philosophy with your hygiene. Your actions can cause harm to others.
And while we’re on the topic of shared food, my father has a saying, “Never eat the free donuts at the bank.” Why? Because all our grubby little fingers waiting in line after handling bacteria-laden money make their way through those baked treats. We eat a lot of “bank donuts” at Yale, free food offered by clubs, cultural houses and recruiters.
I’m not saying we should stop the practice — everybody likes a good Taco Bell study break — but make sure if your organization is offering a platter, you have serving utensils (not tiny teaspoons), so that sick individuals’ hands don’t run through everybody else’s dinner. Better yet, serve individually wrapped items. I’ve been guilty of not following this one scrupulously, but we all need to be more considerate of how we could be spreading germs.
But the least hygienic places on Yale’s campus are, unsurprisingly, our bathrooms. The bathrooms here, like almost every shared bathroom among 20-year-olds, are bound to be a little gross. But we can take some small precautions that make them healthier spaces for everyone. If you spill on the sink, clean it up. Don’t leave toilet paper all over the place. It’s a matter of respect.
Yale’s administration is not guiltless when it comes to why our restrooms are so unhygienic. With overworked maintenance workers, the bathrooms often aren’t cleaned regularly, making them prime places for grime and germs. Toilets remain clogged for days without student access to plungers, sinks can be covered in filth, soap dispensers go unfilled and paper towels aren’t available to dry hands after washing them. That last problem is deceptively bad: Some pathogens stay on hands even after being washed and spread more easily the longer hands are wet.
These are problems that the Yale administration needs to address when triaging its response to the virus, but, in the interim, we as a community can come together to be more mindful of how we take up space.
This is especially important because the bathrooms aren’t just places for washing ourselves. Yale suffers from a shortage of water fountains, which means that students draw their water from the dining hall or, when that’s closed for the majority of the day, the grimy sinks. In my college, Silliman, for example, I can think of just one water fountain, which is hidden in a remote location in the basement. If we’re letting our faucets get covered in filth, then those harmful materials go into the water we drink.
These may seem like lessons we should all have adhered to in elementary school. But students are frequently not following them, not thinking about how their actions could contribute to the virus’s spread. In the face of a public health crisis, take the time to reflect on how you can better show concern for the people around you. Doing your part to be a better member of the community involves taking care of yourself.
JACOB HUTT is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .