The defining characteristic of our current pandemic is perhaps its crushing circularity. Diseases crash through a population in waves; cities and countries open and shut like refrigerators; and here we go again. It is the first day of the spring, almost one year after the last spring semester. We are vaccinated and boostered; we are armed with oral treatments for a disease that seems to be no longer as lethal; we are wiser from the lessons we have learned in a difficult year; we are even heady from the cautious successes of a riveting fall; and yet, we are back on Zoom. 

As much as I’d like to open the semester on a more optimistic note, I cannot help but acknowledge how defeated I feel. I have listened to science. I have prostrated myself in front of deities of public health and still been vanquished. I have been instructed that “current public health conditions” — a murky conglomeration of statistical variables — preclude my being able to eat with my friends, by a shapeless body that I neither know nor understand. But wait — this is not my failure. 

Let me clarify, before I am accused of being an entitled reactionary, I am not proclaiming that this is Yale, the government, or some public health apparatus’ failure either. But the question of why we are where we are certainly warrants some investigation. 

I want my life back. I want to swarm WLH and LC and every acronym on this campus, donning surgical blue masks and Yale blue sweatshirts, and hug my classmates or shake hands with my professors. I want to perform on stage again, to hear my friends sing and cheer them on at games, to sit next to my writing tutor as she tells me to restructure my thesis. More so, I need to do these things. But I know this is a battle I will not win.

Why? Because this is a battle of me against the illusion of statistics. Whenever public health decisions are made, neither my nor Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will ever be considered because they are not numbers. Administrators standing in ivory towers cannot see the tears, screams or the tired resignation of the subjects standing miles below them, even if they represent the mental health of a generation. Student “happiness” is as murky a category as “public health conditions” — it matters little if it is not a sterile data set. COVID numbers are so much more versatile. They can be counted, added, multiplied, regressed, Fourier transformed, funneled into complicated formulas with 1000 variables that public health officials invent to scramble at some semblance of certainty. 

Throughout the pandemic, I have understood the need to protect our physical health. But now, in a community of triply vaccinated individuals, with a dominant disease variant that some have even hailed as a natural vaccine, COVID-19 hardly constitutes the kind of threat it did one year ago. Again, they will cite immunocompromised individuals and older professors — undoubtedly, important community stakeholders. And yet, I am hard-pressed to imagine that in fully ventilated classrooms of fully vaccinated students who are fully masked standing more than six feet away from professors, there is substantial risk of breakthrough transmission and subsequent severe illness.  

And what lies on the other side of the scale? Happiness. The Yale Experience. The intangibles that define our time here. Caution comes at a cost. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that physical illness is not the sole cause of death. I will refer skeptics to this guidebook. We are the subjects of your cost-benefit analyses, but we are more than a collection of vital signs and transmission rates. We are a collection of dreams and aspirations that are crushed by reversions to Zoom. Mask and vaccine mandates are necessary goods for our community health, but we need to recontextualize what we are missing before we go any further. 

Too often, college health policies often draw a false dichotomy between learning and socializing. Education is far more than the moderated discussions of a classroom. I want my philosophy seminar to be able to debate Spinoza at each Berkeley lunch after Friday class. A semester of in-person instruction with not much else, then, cannot be a complete one. 

We may be vaccinated but we are yet in the darkest days of the pandemic, for our response to this disease will chart the trajectory of decades to come.  If we choose to deny the gifts of life — serendipitous encounters at an extracurricular mixer, dancing with a new love at an impromptu party — if we choose to reduce our relationships to a set of Zoom tiles — we will retreat further into the darkness every time a variant emerges. The only way to step into the light is to accept the inevitable uncertainties of a new world; to balance the wisdom of living with the sanitized abstractions of community health. A community devoid of joy, liberty and hope is no healthier than one overrun by a virus. 

Policy, by nature, is as susceptible to optics as it is to reality. Returning to normalcy in the middle of Omicron’s uncertainties is unlikely to be a frictionless move, among conflicting data about the new variant. Universities will be accused of neglecting student health. 

I only hope that Yale is a pioneer in its approach to this delicate balancing act, particularly in understanding that the student body’s feelings and desires matter more than the viral loads in our feces. I will not pretend this is an easy task. Yet, I am filled with pride when I think of the school’s courage in going forward with the Game this past fall, of understanding that the opacity of “public health risks” sometimes matter less than the traditions that define the highest moments of our lives. It is that Yale model that I hope we continue to follow, not its more recent avatar.  

I am not afraid to admit that the spring semester pushed me to my breaking point, and I was not the only one. The fall felt like we got our lives back. Going back to the days of March 2020 is a dangerous game. We are the collateral damage of the decisions the shapeless body makes. I only hope that when they decide to shut down dining halls, to cancel sporting events, to leave us with just one week of continuous break in the middle of our longest semester, that they can imagine our faces when we read their emails. 

Public health gods, I give you my freedom. Test us twice a week, slap masks on our face, jab our arms and test our feces. And once you’re done with that, give us back our lives. 

Pradz Sapre is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin college. His column, titled ‘Growing pains’, runs every other Monday.


Pradz Sapre is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and the Humanities. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at