Diary Of The Plague Year

SUNY Oneonta Students Share Fears, Hopes

Diary Of The Plague Year

Edited By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Last March, SUNY Oneonta sent students home. Amidst massive disruption, Adjunct History Professor Ann Trainor was struck by the historic nature of the event. She encouraged her students and others to record diaries of their experiences.

Reading through these diary entries a year later feels like time travel, the experiences familiar while the perspectives seem naïve.

“I really thought we were going to come back to Oneonta at the end of March and this hysteria would be over,” student Maggie McCann wrote in mid-April. In July, looking back at her earlier entries, she commented that it “felt like it was written in a different decade, so much has happened since.”

Trainor collaborated with historians, librarians and others to create a blog-style website, “The Semester of Living Dangerously,” for the housebound campus. In the summer, with more than 100 diary entries, essays, poems and other writing shared, the organizers extended the project.

The blog continues to grow, and will be edited into an academic book to be published by SUNY Press in 2022. Below are a few excerpts from hundreds on the website.


DAY 1. This, the Coronavirus is something that we cannot see, unknown, uncharted territory. One day I am up at school getting ready for Spring break, and the next, I am quarantined in my home, with my family

DAY 2. Nonstop news about the coronavirus. Not enough information. Where did it come from, who caused it, all speculation? The Chinese Virus it’s called. Something created in China and affected the whole world. How can something affect the World? A Global pandemic. What am I to do with these words? I am not alone. Everyone is asking the same question with no answer. It’s spreading, Italy has over 60 cases reported in a 24-hour timeframe. People are dying all over. Sadness, gloom, despair, depression is setting in. Is this an apocalypse? The end of the human race? This is like watching a movie. Unreal, a sense of loneliness. I can’t explain it. People are here in my house; how can I be lonely?

DAY 3. My parents are wearing masks and gloves when they go in and out of the stores. Sometimes they get what they need and sometimes not. Supermarkets are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked as people are buying as if they are building a panic room or bomb shelters. There is no toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and Lysol around. The shelves are empty. Thank goodness for farmers.

Creamy mushroom soup is the only item left in the canned goods aisle at Walmart in Oneonta, April 27, 2020.

DAY 4. My parents are in a state of disarray. Calm to the eye, but chaos inside. My family owns a transportation company, which now seems to be the forgotten industry as people are putting it. No work, no money, nothing is coming in. Quarantined in the house full of crazy people.

DAY 5. Social distancing, this is new. You have to keep space between yourself and other people. They recommend stay at least 6 feet from other people, do not gather in groups, stay out of crowded places.
What happens to my friends? I haven’t really seen anyone in a while. I went to the beach and met up with some friends. We sat in our separate cars and talked through the windows. 6 feet apart in separate cars is really hard to do. You never think about this until you actually have to do it. We drink coffee and discussed, what? Nothing. All of a sudden, we have nothing to discuss besides this virus. The thought of this lasting months is a nail biter!

DAY 7. How to get through a quiet day? I miss school and I miss my friends. Being stuck at home for this long is torture. Having contact with my family only causes nothing but fights, it’s horrible. I miss my old life. College was my safe place. I cannot wait to be let out of this lockdown. The second it’s over is the second I leave for days and never stay in this house again.

DAY 8. Taking a deep breath. So, my nails are a disaster. What to do? All the nail salons are closed. Idea, have my mother give me a manicure. Hey exciting, something different to do. Okay, not the best decision I’ve made so far. Ok so wanted a drink, I went to the cabinet to get a cup and took out a paper plate. What was I thinking, oh yeah, I’m not!! I’m going crazy. I hope things get better within this month. It needs to.


Measuring A Month
Assistant Geography Professor , May 3, 2021

Wake, walk, eat, work; work, walk, eat, sleep. Wake in the middle of the night, work, sleep. Wake, walk.
Days and weeks have blurred together. If I didn’t keep a calendar filled with reminders for “dept mtg”, “sr sem presentations”, “J b-day”, I wouldn’t know, is it Monday or Friday, already May or still mid-March? (Doesn’t help, that the sky continues to spit sleet.) And if I didn’t also fill the calendar with memories of “rainbow”, “first forsythia”, “forget-me-nots”, I wouldn’t know, has time actually passed, anything happened other than the odd progression of the semester, the escalating panic of the news, the accumulating silence?
Disorienting, now, to be stuck pacing the same sidewalks and streets, surrounded by people, all shuttered in their homes or sealed in their cars. I walk through a ghost city, sidewalks to myself.
There’s still the wildlife. Most of my calendar notes consist of weather or wildlife-spottings. Killdeer by Corning (4/16), beaver by the golf course (4/25), barred owl in Wilber Park (4/17), common mergansers in Neahwa (4/24). Bald eagle by the West End wetland, eagle along the river, eagle in the cemetery; eagle over the Price Chopper parking lot, infiltrating a kettle of vultures (4/29). Woodchucks everywhere – a grand one-day tally of six. Stopped counting the ravens and crows scavenging deer and squirrels from the roadsides. Dead porcupine after dead porcupine after dead porcupine, 4/7, 4/10, 4/28. (With less traffic, how is there still so much roadkill? As if there isn’t enough sorrow in the world right now.)


Associate English Professor, Aug. 30, 2020

All the late-summer flowers are out: blue cornflower, orange jewel weed, Queen Anne’s lace. Some are already wilting. Today’s cool breeze is enough to signal what’s ahead in the weather. Summer’s closing down. Oh, yeah, and the school is closing down. In the past five days we’ve gone from zero to 105 positive COVID cases, some of which must have first been symptomatic before they were reported. Someone mapped it on a graph–the sharp upward slope of it looked impressive but it didn’t look good.
Today the SUNY Chancellor posed an intervention and ordered what they’re calling a COVID Swat Team to campus to conduct massive testing. It sounds dramatic, though I don’t think it will entail either Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in Hazmat suits (though that would be impressive) or Homeland Security pulling students into unmarked vans (that would be terrifying). Still, while no one wanted this outcome, it was easy to see it coming. Why, oh why, we are asking, was this not entirely anticipated?


Roommates Stephanie Mallen and Tara Tassio, SUNY Oneonta sophomores, cook a pasta lunch in the basement dorm of Grant Hall. (Mike Forster Rothbart/AllOTSEGO.com)

By Jaclyn Kennedy
Sept. 6, 2020

Day 1: I have been trying to be fairly careful under the new COVID-19 rules and regulations. However, I have not been staying home completely. Some friends and I went out to dinner last Friday night. Now my group of friends is concerned we were exposed to the virus when we were out to eat. Personally, at this moment I think they are being paranoid, and I do not believe we were exposed.

Day 2: Today, my friends got tested for COVID-19. To my surprise, 4/8 of them came back positive; this included my roommate. However, it’s odd… we were all together and yet only some of the group tested positive for the virus. Yet, since we were all potentially exposed we must quarantine to make sure symptoms of the virus do not develop later on. This means I am now getting calls from contact tracers.

Day 3: I still have had no symptoms of the virus. My roommate and I have been extremely careful to wipe down doorknobs, clean the bathroom and kitchen (which we share), and mainly stay quarantined in our rooms so she does not infect me. At this point, I am questioning… How did I not get the virus? I made myself a nice dinner tonight, did laundry, did homework, and felt fine. Just as the day crept into the evening, I began to experience muscle aches (a symptom of COVID-19). I am not totally concerned at this point. Muscle aches can have a lot of causes.

Day 4: I slept. And slept… And slept some more. Something wasn’t right. I finally pulled myself out of bed for the first time that day at 6:30pm, just to use the bathroom and put some food in my stomach. By 7:00pm, I was exhausted from that little bit of activity and back in bed for the night. It was time to schedule a COVID-19 test. I had a pretty good hunch of how it was going to go. The craziest part of this virus and the way it affected me personally was how quickly the symptoms crept on me.

Day 5: Still very very fatigued. However, today I had to force myself out of bed in order to get my COVID-19 test. Sure enough, as expected, the test came back positive.

Day 6: By this point, I actually woke up feeling a lot better today. I still had muscle aches, and my headaches were horrible. However, my extreme fatigue was lessening which made a big difference. I was still able to keep up with my school work considering it was all online, which was good. Yet, as expected it just wasn’t the first thing on my mind while being so sick. I felt like I got beat up by this virus.


Ghost Town
By Melissa Lavin
Associate Sociology Professor, Nov. 1, 2020

There were a few trick-or-treaters on the street tonight. Their tiny feet tapped on gravel as they walked with flashlights. They were friendly and small, but few lit driveways greeted them. They were hungry for candy and to be loved for their costumes. In a pandemic, Halloween is by ghosts in a ghost town.


Dec. 9, 2020

I spent the entire day staring at my computer. I feel like this is all I do every single day. I haven’t gone out in weeks and have not seen my friends in what feels like forever. Being alone in the house feels like the new “norm”, but it’s still weird to me that a year ago I was out every single day.


Semester 2 Draws To Close
By Susan Goodie
Assistant History Professor, Jan 12, 2020

I cry when I watch the evening news, no matter how hard I try to be stoic. Everyone is dealing with such angst. The leadership is sorely lacking, the climate is fighting back against centuries of human exploitation, and incidents of injustice are manifest. No one is passing through this time unscathed.
Yet, every day there is also something to appreciate or even celebrate. Most of my students have stuck with me and are wrapping up a semester of learning they can be truly proud of. I am so proud of them. They have supported me and each other in ways that matter, not just for today, but for all the days to come. The human spirit cannot be quenched: we are unstoppable. This does not in any way diminish the terrible tragedies which I cannot stop grieving. But it does assure me we are going to be okay – we are going to get through

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