Bear and Buster are social creatures. They particularly love interacting with our collegiate neighbors next door at Western Washington University. College girls love sloppy dog kisses, and college boys share leftover junk food. After months of lonely frolicking on the empty quad, Bear and Buster were glad to see a few students return to campus last month.
So far classes are mostly online. Faculty and staff are still working from home, and only one of the dorms is inhabited. The dogs usually have the lawn to themselves. Nevertheless, these days as we walk through campus we often encounter a handful of students doing student things. Bear and I already have gathered enough data to make some observations.
I can report that Western has successfully socialized members of the community to follow at least two of the three “Ws.” (I can’t speak to their hand washing.) We’ve definitely watched a high proportion of earnest social distancing and mask wearing.
For example, if Bear and I time our evening walk correctly, we will encounter a jazz combo jamming on the plaza in front of the library. (Look, a tuba – that’s how you can tell you’re at Western.)
Note the drummers have their masks on. And all the musicians are at least six feet apart.
The compliance rates for masks and social distancing remain high even when students engage in vigorous activities. Almost everyone wears masks as they walk through campus. In fact, we counted over 80% of cyclists and runners wearing masks. The number for trapeze stunts and games of “Four Square” approached 100% masked.
Of course, millennials are still millennials. If they’re not actually touching a ball, they’re touching their phone.
As Bear and I walked through campus on our last sunny warm day, we saw twenty or thirty students hanging out together or lying on suitably distanced blankets. Alone or together, busy or relaxed, at least half of them were staring at their smart phones.
I surreptitiously took the next photo at the park. As you can see, the masked photographer is taking a picture of the picture of the sunset on his phone.
Even at earnest WWU there are outliers. Me, for example. I have my mask ready in case Bear and I stop at a coffee shop, pub, or bookstore. However, because of the cumulative damage to my nose from PTSD and trichotillomania, I can’t breathe if I wear my mask while walking the dogs.
Occasionally on our maskless walks through campus I’ll get confused glares from brainwashed students. If anyone asks, I tell them about my disability, and explain the situation would be different if I were indoors, or bunched together in a group. When I see others outdoors without masks on, I try not to judge. Unless they’re wearing MAGA hats.
One final piece of data: last week Bear and I saw a student zipping by on his skateboard. I wanted to flag him down and ask why he was wearing a mask but not a helmet. But he was too busy listening to his phone.