As I write, it is late March, and we are in the early weeks of a new normal — learning to live a safe distance from one another in response to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. I only hope, as you read this, that citizens’ collective observance of the guidelines on social distancing has helped contain the deadly potential of the virus. What I don’t know at this point, what none of us knows, is how long this new normal will last.
There’s real danger in turning a blind eye to alerts from the top level of public health oﬃcials. Such cautions need to be reinforced and restated repeatedly by oﬃcials of both public and private sector institutions in order for them to sink in. No one wants to interrupt plans for spring break travel, but that quickly became the reality when colleges and universities took instruction online in short order, banned gatherings on their campuses, and sent residential students home.
And still we saw photos of spring break revelers on beaches, though restaurants and bars were shuttered, and daily the numbers of cases rose. Here in Louisiana, February’s Mardi Gras celebrations surfaced as a possible reason the number of cases in the state skyrocketed and the growth rate of cases per capita exceeded any other location anywhere. The Carnival festivities had unfolded before national health oﬃcials publicly raised alarms about the risks of large gatherings.
As I wrote in a letter to all members, staﬀ has helped well over a hundred chapters cancel their spring initiation ceremonies as chapter leaders heeded the decisions of their institution’s administration to refrain from gatherings. We are grateful that students continued to join Phi Kappa Phi in recognition of their academic achievements despite the disruption on their campuses.
The new normal we all observed this spring will almost inevitably lead to a very diﬀerent normal when the threat of the virus abates. As of now, we have no idea what the next new normal will look like. What will be the long-term impact on colleges and universities who were already dealing with predictions of an enrollment cliﬀ in the early 2020s? How will the rapid embrace of online learning adopted by higher education in order to teach out the spring semester impact the future of instruction?
The novel coronavirus has impacted American lives in every state, including members of my family, perhaps yours as well. I shudder to think of how the numbers will have grown by the time you read this.
Noted author C.S. Lewis suggested that “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” With eyes wide open, America is facing the greatest public health crisis in its history. There’s nothing normal about it. I pray you are well.