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CL 220: New Diseases in History and Literature

This LibGuide provides resources for assignments in CL220. Course Description: This course examines reactions to new diseases in various cultures across history, considering medical writings alongside works of literature, film, and other artistic media.

Display 1: Our Community's Shared Experiences

For many members of the Eckerd community during this time, this email from College President Donald R. Eastmann III may feel like it marked the “real beginning” of the pandemic. By late February 2020, there was a growing awareness among faculty, students, and staff of “the coronavirus” (as it was then commonly referred to) potentially affecting life at the College, but few people in the United States perceived it as a major threat to things here until early March. Even fewer at this time had any sense of how devastating and long-lasting the situation would be. At the time of the shutdown, many within the Eckerd community and beyond believed that life would be “back to normal” quite soon, and that students might even be able to return to campus again sometime in April.

While adding a week to the Spring Break period allowed for adjustments to be made, inevitably students, faculty, and staff all faced struggles to adapt to the “new normal” (a suddenly pervasive expression) of remote instruction, overhauled courses, and life in quarantine. This email provides a glimpse of the College responding to a developing crisis in real time and grappling with new protocols such as “social distancing”. The placement of this phrase in quotation marks lays bare the public’s lack of familiarity with the practice at this time.

The onset of the pandemic also sadly corresponded with the last months of President Eastmann’s nearly 20-year tenure at the College. In 2019, President Eastmann had announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2020 academic year, and he never could have envisioned that he would end up spending the last few months of his work at the College grappling with such an unprecedented crisis. The early stages of the pandemic thus marked a time of significant transition at the College, as in so many other facets of society.

When students were finally able to return to campus (in a staggered fashion) starting in August 2020, they found a College dramatically transformed and well-prepared to address the medical and academic challenges presented by the pandemic. To help protect our community, students returning to campus for in-person instruction were required to pledge to help protect our community by adhering to the provisions of the “Eckerd Together Promise”.

Please note: on display is only the first page of the 2021-22 version of this document; the full document (12 additional pages that include further details about General Requirements, Testing and Contact Tracing, Quarantine and Isolation, Guests and Visitors, Access to Buildings and Spaces, Gatherings, and Future Changes and Additional Restrictions) can be found in this catalog immediately following the list of items found in Display 1.

These items collectively represent the ambitious program of surveillance testing enacted by the College when in-person instruction resumed on campus at the beginning of Autumn Term 2020. Throughout most of the 2020-21 academic year (until vaccines became widely available), all community members (students, staff, and faculty) were required to undergo periodic testing in designated groups (as reflected on the surveillance testing sign) by submitting saliva samples. These samples were collected via “spit test” equipment such as the unit featured in this display. These surveillance tests were performed in a clinic that was set up in the GO Pavilion, as shown in the photos that are also included in the display. These materials demonstrate an important aspect of the College’s extensive efforts to remain vigilant and keep our community as safe as possible during this time.

This collection of signs exhibit the diligence of the Eckerd community in promoting and adhering to the social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC. Also evident in this signage are elements of creativity that embody the Eckerd spirit and reflect the essence of the College’s identity (or “Eckerdness”) during this era. Such signs (and other versions with similar messaging) were posted widely across campus.

These photos, taken by the Prof. Goyette, demonstrate the arrangement of seats and equipment in the classroom in which this course was held in Spring 2021 (Triton Room A). Characteristic of all classrooms on campus during the 2020-21 academic year, all desks were stationed exactly 6 feet apart in all directions, and for purposes of contact tracing all students were required to remain in the same seat for the entire semester. Throughout the year, a number of spaces on campus not typically used as classrooms were converted to hold class meetings to allow for these social distancing practices to be carried out collegewide. While this constituted a radical change for a college accustomed to dynamic exercises and movement within the classroom, innovative uses of outdoor spaces on campus during class meetings enabled many of those activities to occur, engaging students to literally “Think Outside” (apropos to the Eckerd motto during this era). The lovely grove of South Slater’s Woods was the designated “outdoor classroom” space for this course.

This is a replica of the first page of a ballot used in the state of Florida for the 2020 General Election. It represents the highly charged and polarized nature of contemporary politics, including a presidential election process that became particularly contentious. For both major parties, the pandemic became the dominant campaign issue, and rhetoric from some corners politicized the pandemic in ways that were extremely unfortunate.

This presidential election also became famous for the seemingly interminable waiting period to determine a winner, with almost five days passing before reputable news outlets finally declared Democrat Joe Biden victorious. Following this announcement, the sitting President refused to concede, baselessly claiming—along with millions of other Americans—that the election had been “stolen” from him. For many, the divisive nature of the election aftermath, along with lingering uncertainties about the presidential transition, mirrored the frustrating and unabating nature of the pandemic, as politics and public health became disconcertingly intertwined.

Early in the pandemic, people of all ages and walks of life became well-acquainted with the term “social distancing” (a phrase previously familiar only to epidemiologists) and the CDC recommendation to maintain a distance of 6 feet (or 72”) from others while in public spaces. Designed to help “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve” (expressions frequently heard at the beginning of the pandemic), this public health measure has proven extremely effective when implemented consistently. Within this display, there are a number of pieces of signage that exhibit the seriousness with which the Eckerd community has followed this guidance.

As epidemiologists warned about the highly transmissible nature of the virus, many people chose to wear disposable latex gloves when working or interacting in public spaces. Such gloves have been frequently used by a range of people working on campus, and boxes of them are a common feature in offices and shared spaces here. At the same time, well into the first year of the pandemic uncertainties about the nature of the virus—particularly its rate of transmission via fomites (physical surfaces that are likely to carry infection)—raised questions about the kinds of situations that most called for the use of gloves. These gloves therefore represent not only a common image of the pandemic, they also symbolize some of the persistent epidemiological questions that were challenging to address for scientists, public health officials, and private individuals alike.

These gloves are also emblematic of how concerns about physical contagion altered greeting practices during this time. Prior to the distribution of the COVID vaccines, in many communities handshaking became nearly obsolete, and some prominent public health officials remarked that it would be beneficial to public health for that to remain the case permanently. In lieu of shaking hands, fist bumps and elbow bumps became a more common greeting practice, while others wished to avoid bodily contact altogether. As many have become vaccinated it appears that handshaking has regained some popularity, but at this juncture the extent to which this trend will continue into the future remains unclear.

Throughout the pandemic, many have carried their own sets of antibacterial wipes to help disinfect surfaces that others may have come into contact with. Moreover, since the return of in-person classes at Eckerd in August 2020 a station containing wipes (along with masks) could be found in the entryway to each classroom on campus. The sight of students wiping down desks upon entering and when preparing to leave classrooms has become commonplace, and similar efforts to disinfect surface are often seen in public places beyond the campus as well.

The irony of this image will not be lost on the Eckerd Class of 2020, whose last year of college was profoundly affected by the shutdown of the campus in March 2020. Instead of walking across the stage in a cap and gown to receive their diplomas in person, students graduating from Eckerd and other colleges across the country participated in online ceremonies. While the College hopes to invite this class back to campus at some point when it is deemed safe and appropriate, graduates’ separation from classmates, friends, and professors during the culminating moments of their college career will surely retain a profound sense of loss.

This item also represents the intensified challenges members of the Class of 2020 faced in their transition from college to the “real world” during this tumultuous time. It also calls to mind the challenges confronted by students entering Eckerd in Fall 2020 (the Class of 2024), who experienced a dramatic disruption to the end of their high school career, missed out on traditional graduation ceremonies, and matriculated at a time of immense transition, adjustment, and uncertainty. In addition, this tassel attests to the many other personal and cultural milestones that passed without celebration or acknowledgement. For many, any kind of festivity, even if logistically possible, felt inappropriate amid the escalating infections and death tolls.

With limited treatments for COVID at the onset of the pandemic, medical communities and the public at large focused a great deal of attention on the development of a safe and effective vaccine. A body of preexisting knowledge about coronaviruses, along with emerging mRNA technologies enabled immunologists working with a number of biomedical corporations, such as Pfizer, to develop, test, and mass-produce vaccines in less than a year. Rigorous testing showed these vaccines to be highly effective at reducing the probability of infection, at decreasing the severity of symptoms in the off-chance that a vaccinated person should contract the virus, and at diminishing the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.

By late 2020, immunization shots were made available to medical personnel and other essential workers, and starting in March 2021 vaccination appointments became increasingly available to older adults in many parts of the country. By the end of April 2021, the vaccine was widely available to all adults in most parts of the country. At first vaccinations were primarily available at massive public clinics, sometimes requiring drive-through appointments with cars lined up for hours, but by April 2021 drug stores (e.g. CVS, Walgreens) began to distribute the vaccine as well. Eckerd even held a series of its own clinics which provided Pfizer vaccinations to hundreds of students, staff, and faculty on campus starting on April 20 and 21 (the recommended second dose of the vaccine was provided in clinics held on campus during the week of May 10).

Long periods of quarantine and isolation from public life disrupted well-established personal habits and routines, such as haircuts. Some resorted to cutting their own hair (a prominent example of the burgeoning DIY movement during this time) or having a friend or family member cut it to the best of their ability, while others found occasion to let their manes to grow and flow freely like never before. Meanwhile, barbers and hair salons closed for months, often with extreme financial consequences.

This crumpled dollar bill represents the extreme economic instability which has characterized this time. The restructuring of daily life has (especially during the first year of COVID) resulted in widespread underemployment and job loss, and a concomitant pandemic of financial hardship. To provide a measure of relief, in 2020 the United States’ federal government took the unprecedented step of issuing economic stimulus checks to a vast majority of citizens. These stimulus checks have (to date) perhaps helped avert a full-blown economic depression, but they have not been sufficient assistance for all too many individuals and small businesses, especially at a time with an accelerated rate of inflation.

This item is also a testament to how the pandemic has ushered in a largely cashless economy, with many in-person vendors no longer accepting physical money due to concerns about contact and germ transmission. As a result, the sight of a dollar bill (along with larger denominations and coins) has become increasingly uncommon.

Upon receiving vaccinations, individuals were issued a “Vaccination Record Card” as a public health provision administered under the auspices of the CDC. This practice quickly gave rise to politicized debate about appropriate and legal uses of this card, as some businesses and events sought to restrict access to only those who could prove they had been vaccinated. Despite the positive intent and epidemiological wisdom of such restrictions, political factions in the United States (including Florida) and in other parts of the world derided the use of “vaccine passports” (as they commonly came to be known) as an undue restriction on personal freedoms and took measures to stop their implementation.

One of the most enduring images of this pandemic is sure to be the cloth face mask which has been widely worn to help slow the spread of the virus. These masks provide a barrier intended to trap a person’s own respiratory droplets (which are released when one talks, coughs, or sneezes, and which are a primary vector of transmission) and to protect against the inhalation of droplets exhaled by others. When properly worn by all members of a shared space or community, masks prove highly effective in limiting transmission, as illustrated by the “Mask Up” sign in this display.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the practice of mask-wearing was a significant adjustment for many people in the United States and many other parts of the world. Few possessed such masks, and the early stages of the pandemic witnessed many people sewing their own makeshift masks from pieces of cloth they had at home. Soon, however, industrially-produced face masks became widely available for purchase in many stores. Face masks worn during this time were sometimes made from other kinds of materials, but among the general public cloth masks (such as the one included in this display) have proven the most commonplace.

In many establishments and locales, mask-wearing quickly came to be viewed as a common courtesy and was regularly practiced; this has very much been the case at Eckerd, as encapsulated by the “Eckerd Together” phrase on the mask included in this display. Unfortunately, in other corners mask-wearing has been neglected, mocked, and/or dubiously politicized, especially as the pandemic has dragged on. Furthermore, throughout the pandemic it has been a struggle for both public institutions and private businesses to enforce mask-wearing mandates when others refuse to abide by them.

At the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, the College provided all members of the Eckerd community with one of these red, yellow, or green wristbands intended to signal one’s level of comfort with distance without having to communicate about that verbally. According to a flyer that was issued by Counseling Services on August 27, 2020, a red band signified that the wearer is “asking you to keep a safe distance from them, [to] always wear your mask, and [to] please…not touch their personal belongings; yellow indicated that the wearer is “cautious or concerned, but would be okay with limited contact such as an elbow bump”; green meant that the wearer is “comfortable with reasonable contact while still wearing a mask and socially distancing. Community members chose according to their preference, and were strongly encouraged to wear their chosen band daily. Some selected multiple bands, anticipating that their level of comfort might shift from situation to situation.

While innovative, kindly-intentioned, and complementary to the provisions of the Eckerd Together Promise (see Item #2), in practice this initiative turned out to be somewhat short-lived. While community members did their best to respect others’ preferences as expressed via these wristbands, a number of practical questions arose concerning matters of interpretation and grey areas within the color scheme. The asking of such questions reflect the Eckerd community’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity concerning social distancing during this time, just as the initiative itself is indicative of the College thinking outside of the box to find ways to make all of its community members feel as comfortable and safe as possible.

After an initial period of scarcity, hand sanitizer came to be one of the most omnipresent items of the pandemic. Fears about germs and contagion triggered a rush of panic-buying and hoarding in which demand far exceeded supply at the beginning of the pandemic, and hand sanitizer became one of the most precious commodities. Disappointingly, this time saw a number of people seeking to profit by buying all of the hand sanitizer they could and selling it at exceptionally marked-up prices on Amazon and similar retailers. Once supply channels caught up, the sight of people carrying containers of hand sanitizer and frequently applying it became ubiquitous, as did the presence of sanitizing stations in places of business and other public spaces, including classrooms and offices on the Eckerd campus.

As seen with hand sanitizer (Item #17), this item was subject to panic-buying at the beginning of the pandemic. Escalating fears of public interaction and impending stay-at-home orders led some to begin hoarding various household goods—toilet paper perhaps being most notorious among them all. Months into the pandemic, it was still often challenging to find toilet paper in stores in many parts of the country.

This icon instantly evokes the rapid shift to online delivery for all courses that occurred in March 2020, leaving instructors and students with only about two weeks to prepare for this new mode of teaching and learning. Apart from the name of the videoconference program, the verb “zoom” seems rather fitting for this abrupt transition.

While instructors and administrators experimented with a number of videoconference programs (Google Meet also enjoyed some popularity in the first months of the pandemic), Zoom became the favored platform, both at Eckerd and nationally. By the Fall 2020 most Eckerd faculty and staff had adopted Zoom for classes and for meetings with people attending remotely, and its rise amid the backdrop of the pandemic led some to begin referring to COVID as “the Zoom plague”. While this moniker may not have stuck, by Fall 2020 many had grown weary of Zoom (and other videoconference programs) and the term “Zoom fatigue” had come into wide usage. This phenomenon has already been the subject of academic studies (e.g. Bennett, A. A., Campion, E. D., Keeler, K. R., & Keener, S. K. [2021]. “Videoconference fatigue? Exploring changes in fatigue after videoconference meetings during COVID-19.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(3), 330–344.

Even during the periods of most extreme lockdown, many workers were still required to physically come into work. Certain jobs, including waste management and recycling, could not be completed from home despite the risks of contagion, and in many cases the workers with those jobs had concerns about financial repercussions and job security should they choose to stay home. Furthermore, many workers with these jobs were from communities that were already disadvantaged, and the working conditions they endured during the pandemic often produced a higher rate of infection, further exacerbating their preexisting struggles and marginalization. For some, this has raised poignant and incisive questions about the meaning of “essential workers” and “frontline workers”—terms that the popular press has most frequently applied to doctors, nurses, and emergency medical personnel.

As these flyers suggest, COVID has brought about an interrelated mental health pandemic which has been frequently overshadowed by the disease’s physical symptoms and death toll. Among a wide range of ages and demographic groups, rates of anxiety, depression, and an assortment of other mental health challenges have spiked. Moreover, for many individuals these problems have been made worse by isolating periods of quarantine. The needs of school-age children have been particularly impacted, due to the prolonged shutdown of school buildings, camps, and other programs that are instrumental in identifying and responding to children’s mental health issues. For such reasons, it remains crucial to continue raising awareness about the pervasiveness and the seriousness of the mental health component of the COVID pandemic.

The pandemic has also brought a significant change in the mental health profession, namely the rise of online psychotherapy (along with online appointments for other kinds of medical issues). This practice was previously not allowed due to privacy concerns, and while it has potential to create greater access and availability for some patients it remains to be seen if this will continue to be an option in the future.

Following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN—a horrific moment captured on video by a witness’ cellphone and subsequently viewed by millions across the world—massive street demonstrations erupted in United States beginning on May 26, 2020 and soon spread to other parts of the world, all with a similar message: Black lives matter. These demonstrations fostered public discourse about another persistent, deeply entrenched pandemic in the United States—that of racism and the interconnected epidemic of police brutality. During COVID, historians have repeatedly pointed out how outbreaks of mass illness have a tendency to expose the fault lines of a society, and this has certainly been evident in the way that COVID has laid bare pervasive elements of racism in the United States. At a time of social reckoning triggered by a disease, the public health crisis of racism and its intersectional implications have started to receive greater attention.

For many people who actively participated in them, these demonstrations marked the first time they were among a crowd of any size since the beginning of the pandemic. For observers, it could be jarring to see images of thousands of people gathered en masse in public spaces following months of quarantine and social isolation. Here at Eckerd and in many other parts of society, these protests and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole have prompted a broader and deeper dialogue about systemic racism and social justice, which one hopes will be sustained and built upon in actionable ways going forward.

One of the major challenges of the pandemic here in the United States has been a hesitancy or outright resistance among certain segments of the population to receive the vaccine, which have put a damper on public health efforts. Reasons commonly cited for this resistance include assertions that “vaccines cause autism” and similar misgivings that are unsupported by scientific evidence and explicitly refuted by reputable public health organizations (as seen in this statement issued by the Autism Society of America and National Disability Organizations). As noted with Item #11, there is a large body of scientific evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of the vaccines that have been made available to the public. This evidence has been repeatedly explained to the public in readily understandable terms, most visibly by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), chief medical adviser to the president, and a leading figure in public vaccination efforts and other public health initiatives during the pandemic.