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UMBC student reflects on death of renowned professor from coronavirus | COMMENTARY

Maurice Berger is pictured in October 1999 as curator of "Adrian Piper A Retrospective," a new show at the UMBC Fine Arts Gallery. The university researcher and curator died from coronavirus this week.
Maurice Berger is pictured in October 1999 as curator of "Adrian Piper A Retrospective," a new show at the UMBC Fine Arts Gallery. The university researcher and curator died from coronavirus this week.(BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR)

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) campus got sad news this week that research professor Maurice Berger died from complications caused by COVID-19 at just age 63.

As a UMBC student watching President Donald Trump insist on pushing for schools and bars and restaurants to reopen, I can only imagine the decimation and loss of the American population we will continue to see. Contrary to the current administration’s rhetoric, the economy is not worth the lives of thousands.

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The amount of fear my generation has lived through is almost unimaginable. I’ve feared that the government wouldn’t protect me against gun violence as school shootings took lives of students my age in classrooms just like mine. I’ve feared that the government would roll back legislation protecting women and minorities, like me. And I’ve feared that the government wouldn’t protect our world against climate change and melting ice caps.

I feel that same fear right now, struck by Professor Berger’s passing. I can’t help but see the obvious parallels as students like me return home to parents often in the same age range as Professor Berger, worrying about the safety of our parents and loved ones, some of whom may be younger but still vulnerable to the disease.

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This is a life or death issue, and we can’t even rely on our president to be honest and empathetic. In the face of disaster, he is doing the wrong thing, yet again, and it’s costing more lives. And there will be more deaths every day. I’ve watched helplessly as innocent people have fallen victim to the neglect of this administration simply not doing enough. And my fears are quickly coming true with this pandemic.

As Liberty University in Virginia reopens its doors to its students, and President Trump says he wants the economy back up and running by Easter, we are rapidly moving backward, undoing everything our doctors and health care workers are working to accomplish. And, when asked if doctors on Mr. Trump’s team endorsed easing federal guidelines regarding the pandemic, he responded, “Not endorsed.”

As UMBC’s administration quickly tries to put together information for students and to support them individually, it is easy to see how small we are in the grand scheme of things. But with the passing of Professor Berger, a renowned art curator and historian, communities from all over the country responded with resounding sadness. Though I didn’t have him as a professor, my heart goes out to his family, and everyone at UMBC, as the loss of any community member leaves a gaping hole on our campus.

Things are extremely severe all over the world with no signs of stopping or slowing down. This is not the “seasonal flu” as Mr. Trump says it is. As we all know, contrary to the president’s beliefs, he is not immune to the virus, though he tested negative. And even his Mar-a-Lago resort was forced to follow federal guidelines and closed its doors just a few days ago.

Things won’t be OK or even normal for anyone for a long time. That much we must accept. And the fact of the matter is that the American people who are privileged enough to have paid time off do not have to wait for shelter-in-place legislation to stay inside. And you don’t have to take it from a 20 year-old college student, though I’ve been covering COVID-19 since it hit the United States for our newspaper.

Experts at the World Health Organization agree that the United States could easily become the next epicenter of the pandemic. And the growing numbers are a “severe undercount” according to Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the former Maryland health secretary. Hearing about the deaths as numbers often stops us from realizing that each individual had a life, and people who cared about them.

As the deaths rack up, we must remember that the numbers are people. They deserved to live. And the only thing you and I can do is stay inside. We do not have to wait for the leadership that will not come and has not supported us for a long time. There is no time to waste. And though I didn’t know Professor Berger personally, as the death count rises, by the end of this, I’m sure I will know someone who has died from this pandemic. Possibly even another UMBC community member.

Staying inside is absolutely the least we can do, and we do not have the time to waste listening to leadership who I’ve learned will not support me, my family or the rest of the nation during the worst disaster I’ve seen in my 20 years.

Anjali DasSarma (anjali.dassarma@gmail.com) is opinions editor of The Retriever, the student newspaper at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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