SEATTLE — As a senior at the University of Washington, Cece Hoffman has a front-row seat to one of the epicenters of the coronavirus.
Seattle is the seat of King County, Washington, where nearly 1,600 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 100 people have died as a result of the rapidly spreading illness.
A Pendleton High School graduate, Hoffman said people seem more fearful since the city and state shut down most aspects of public life to slow the spread of the virus. Even in Seattle, Hoffman said people didn’t expect this much to happen this fast.
“We didn’t think it would be as drastic as it would be,” she said.
With campus closed, she’s now looking to finish out her college experience online while campus is closed.
Three students who graduated from local high schools in 2016 all ended up at very different colleges, but now find themselves in similar situations — taking classes online while they wait for life to return to normal.
Ryan Lacey, a PHS graduate and a fourth-year student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, said he first started to notice changes in late February.
The university began asking students who planned to travel internationally to register with the university before leaving and discouraged international students from visiting their families at home.
In the coming weeks, Embry-Riddle wouldn’t just convert to an online model, but also close dorms to most students and allow students to change their classes from a letter grade to pass/fail.
Lacey said most professors were used to conducting classes in person, and the quality of courses suffered as a result.
“It’s almost impossible to do labs,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has gained notoriety for refusing to close the state’s beaches during the pandemic as some college students have flocked there for spring break.
Lacey said he’s noticed some crowds on the beach during spring break, but the beach has been big enough that he’s been able to avoid the throngs of partying students.
Lacey plans to return home to Pendleton to visit his family for a few weeks, but he doesn’t plan to stay long. An aeronautical engineering major, he has an upcoming internship with aviation giant Northrop Grumman and he wants to return to Florida before any more travel restrictions are imposed.
Back in Eastern Oregon, Patrick Collins has kept close tabs on COVID-19 as a legislative assistant for state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner.
The Eastern Oregon University student said he’s currently working on Smith’s reelection campaign, but he would assist Smith again should he return to Salem for an expected special session on coronavirus relief.
Collins has already completed a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and natural resources, an Oregon State University program hosted at EOU, and is now starting a master’s in business administration program at Eastern.
While EOU has joined hundreds of other universities in moving its courses online, Collins thinks it’s the right call.
“My education can wait,” he said.
While Collins hasn’t felt too much of a change in his education, it’s a different situation with sports.
An athletic standout at Heppner High School who was recruited to play football at EOU, he was disappointed that spring football practices were canceled, even if he understood the decision.
Hoffman is nearly done with her bachelor’s degree in education, communities and organization, but she doesn’t know if she’ll get a graduation ceremony to celebrate it.
A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, she would like to work for a community organization that serves indigenous people and stay in Seattle if possible, but COVID-19 has created so much uncertainty.
While she’s holed up in Seattle, she’s kept in touch with her family in Eastern Oregon as Umatilla County deals with its own burgeoning coronavirus outbreak.
During the EOU’s campus shutdown, Collins plans to split his time between La Grande and his home in Heppner, a setup he said will give him a chance to spend more time outdoors.
In sparsely populated Morrow County, there are plenty of opportunities to socially isolate while not remaining inside.