April 21, 2020

Once the UCCS campus closed, I was one of many who had to find a new place to stay and different ways to stay healthy with the shutdown of campus facilities. Many institutions across the country faced this same challenge and ended up with a similar outcome. In this way, the University of Oregon (UO) is no different in having to weather the same storm as UCCS. 

     UO’s transition to online classes was just as confusing for students as it was at UCCS. UO student Trevor Mclean, a freshman studying environmental studies, said, “At first we were told that classes would be online for the first three weeks of spring term and then later on, after many people had gone home, they changed the policy so that the entire term would be online. That actually meant that many people left their things in the residence halls thinking they’d eventually be moving back in. The process of closing campus down was very gradual, and for a couple of weeks, it seemed like the policy was changing every day.”

     Mclean and I, as long-time friends, decided it would be best to help one another in these confusing and stressful times by him coming home to Colorado and me helping him drive back during the tail end of spring break. To do so, I flew out and witnessed much of the impact COVID-19 had on airports, gas stations, grocery stores and many small businesses in between Eugene, Oregon and Colorado.

     I’m a frequent flier, and the Denver International Airport was the emptiest I had ever seen it, consisting of only two manned security lanes out of the usual ten or twenty. The plane I was seated on and the surrounding gates averaged only six people per plane. This was a stark contrast to my previous flights out of the country in the months prior.  

     Gas prices in the week we traveled were dollars to the gallon, and the state of lockdown had spread across the country. Roughly 90 percent of the restaurants we drove by or purchased goods from had switched to take-out or were closed completely. Even the smallest towns consisting of only 10 or so houses and businesses were taking the pandemic seriously and had implemented many of the same precautions suggested in Colorado.

     Social distancing queues, per person store limits and nonessential business closures surprised me in their commonality in the early days of the transition, but it was reassuring to see an early response.  

     Throughout the entire drive, there was a stream of supply trucks the whole way to Denver, with hardly any standard commuter cars to be seen. In over 1200 miles, there was not a single place that had not been drastically impacted by the virus, but people were still getting by and adjusting to the changed state of the world. 

     I am sure many of the stories from other universities will end up sounding similar, but seeing the state of the U.S. for myself, I have a new understanding. Mclean and I both found ourselves in agreement that it was a surreal experience and one not likely to ever be seen again within our lifetimes should we be so lucky.