COVID-19 Blog Series

The Beauty in Uncertainty

By: Melissa Berouty

3L at Syracuse University College of Law

What will the job market look like post-grad? Will online classes prepare me for the Bar exam? In March, questions like these began to spin through my mind. I was afraid of the uncertainty. I was afraid of what the future held for myself and my loved ones. I can now see the beauty in uncertainty.

This summer, I split my time between Columbia Law’s Eviction Moratorium Project and Harvard Law’s Worklife and Labor Program. I spent the summer researching the eviction crisis in Hawaii and Indiana. To my surprise, Hawaii led the nation in homelessness rates. Daily, I read devastating testimonies of families fearing eviction as moratoriums lifted around the United States.

Additionally, I researched worker’s rights in various industries. I learned about workplace conditions and safety, which were evidently dwindling in the face of COVID-19. I read stories of employees being furloughed or fired as businesses had no choice but to shut their doors.

It was humbling work, to say the least. I spent most of my summer quarantined in Florida with my best friend’s family. While yes, it would have been nice to be back home in California with my family, not once did I fear not having a roof over my head as millions across the United States were. I did not face the uncertainty of whether I would have a bed to sleep on at night or a warm meal on the table for dinner. For so many, housing is a symbol of security and stability. Without it, where would you be? It is a necessity of life— a human right.

While I worried about obtaining summer employment, employees significantly more qualified than me lost their jobs. As I conducted my work at the kitchen table with my best friend’s dog laying at my feet, essential workers’ put their lives at risk while being offered inadequate workplace protections. Before COVID-19 and our living rooms actually becoming our offices, many spent more time in their respective workplaces than their actual homes. A workplace should feel like a second home. Safe and healthy working conditions, a globally recognized human right, should be a non-negotiable.

While my fears of uncertainty were valid and justified, they were a product of a privileged space. After work, I logged off my computer and tuned back into “my reality.” My reality was secure employment, a roof over my head, and good health. My reality was extra time. Time I used to work out, to laugh with family and friends, and to try my hand at baking rosemary bread. During this pandemic, not everyone could simply log off and carry on with their days. Around the United States and beyond, peoples’ realities were the topics we law students researched.

In law school, I have been guilty of reading cases, extracting the rule, and moving on. I try my best to humanize the parties, but this can get lost in the mundane task of outlining. There are people behind every case, who have stories. Stories that both you and I can relate to. Stories that even on my worst day, I could never imagine experiencing.

This summer, my employers cared about these stories. Of course, I researched the law, but I also researched the impact of the law on the most vulnerable and I am better for it. Just because your reality is fortuitous, does not mean everyone is so lucky. Just because you feel as if an issue does not touch your world, does not mean it is nonexistent. Take a step out of your bubble, wearing a mask of course, and look at the world around you. What can you do to make it better? A consideration as simple as this, I firmly believe would make our world a better place.

Living Life on Zoom: An Interview with Kevin Belbey

By: Nadia Abed & Melissa Berouty 

3Ls at Syracuse University College of Law

As an agent at The Montag Group, Kevin Belbey represents sports broadcasting clients from national networks to local markets. His clients include play-by-play announcers, analysts, radio hosts, writers and reporters. Kevin is a graduate of Syracuse University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, his Master’s Degree in New Media Management from Newhouse and his Juris Doctor from Syracuse University’s College of Law.

He currently serves on several Syracuse boards including the Syracuse University Law Alumni Association, The Newhouse 44, and the Generation Orange Leadership Council. In March of 2017, Kevin was named to Front Office Sports’ “Rising 25” list of up-and-coming sports business professionals. In September 2019, Kevin was the recipient of the Generation Orange Award by his alma mater, an award recognizing a young alumnus making major contributions in their field of work.  

How did you become interested in the industry you currently work in?

BELBEY: Honestly, it was trial and error. I spent a lot of time researching online, going to different networking events, and seeing guest speakers on campus. Some of the best advice I ever got was “the key to figuring out what you want to do is first figuring out what you do not want to do.” I had so many conversations with media attorneys, broadcasters, trial attorneys, and agents in different fields. With every conversation, I really tried to learn what their day-to-day was like to see if it was something that might interest me long term.

I tried to collect as much knowledge as I could. After doing so, I looked to get first-hand experience. While in law school, I did the Washington D.C. externship program and interned with the FCC. This position led me to intern with CBS in their legal department. These two opportunities in law school were highly formative in leading me towards what I wanted to do.

How has the sports media industry been impacted by the pandemic?

BELBEY: It has been totally rocked. For a while, there had been no sports. During this time, so many of our clients were sitting on their couch watching Tiger King like the rest of us. They want to work, but when there are no games or stories to report on, it becomes difficult.

Obviously, there are more pressing things going on in the world with more cases and tragic deaths. It’s important to keep that in perspective. A lot of our clients are paid per game and have filed for unemployment after going a span of five months with no games. It’s been a whirlwind and something that is evolving daily. I think our industry is truly taking it day by day.

You mentioned the unemployment rate, which continues to soar. Is this something that has impacted your industry hard?

BELBEY: It’s been very tough. In our business, summer is a very healthy time and full of new job opportunities. Outside of baseball, summer is typically an off time for sports. Basically, at this time, networks would be preparing for sports to come back. Right now, there a lot of changes in terms of talent, new shows being developed, and plans being made for the fresh seasons. Typically, the summer is when we are negotiating a large number of contracts. However, it’s been very quiet on the deals front as many of the networks do not want to offer contracts unless there is a guarantee there will be games.

Even for the people who still have their jobs, nearly everyone in our industry has taken pay cuts. On-air talent for FOX Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN, and NFL Network have all taken pay cuts to salaries that they have already agreed to. While they are voluntary, I think everyone is trying to be a team player and do the right thing.

With the world becoming increasingly more virtual, how has contract negotiation and general client interaction been for you?

BELBEY: We are pretty much living our life on Zoom these days. We have company meetings at 10:30 AM every morning where we provide updates on the deals we are working on, people we are talking to, and clients we are prospecting. At this point, I try to do as many Zoom calls as I can to get closer to the feeling of in-person interaction.

It is interesting to see different companies and organizations use different technology. For example, NBC sports are big Microsoft Teams people. We really are doing everything we can to make up for the lack of in-person interaction.

During the time that games were not being held, what was your concern and what were the concerns of your clients?

BELBEY: Networks are hesitant to make commitments right now. For the last five months, a lot of networks have been paying people to essentially not work. Right now, people who would usually have had new contacts by now are left waiting to see how the NCAA and these networks will operate moving forward. From there, we will be left with the question of where talent fits in.

Talent is being put on the back burner until everything else is figured out. This is tough. They have kids and families to support. Aside from the money, talent relies on the benefits particularly the health insurance during the pandemic as everyone else in the country has been. In this cloud of uncertainty, I give a lot of credit to our clients for being patient.

With more games expected to be televised, do you see an increase in the need for broadcasters?

BELBEY: I genuinely hope that is the case. I hope that this industry starts booming and there are more job opportunities. On the other hand, I can see a continued use of remote production. Typically, sports broadcasters are on sight at the stadium. Now, some games are being called out of the studio or even broadcaster’s own homes.

As we remain virtual in our day-to-day operations, we see the same thing happening with broadcasters. If this continues, it will actually lead to a decrease in jobs. If you are calling one college football game on the weekend and need to travel the day before and after, you are calling just one game. However, if you are just calling it out of your basement, maybe you can call two to three games in a weekend. This may lead to less opportunity and allow networks to save money.

What do you see the future of sports media looking like moving forward?

BELBEY: My hope is that we tread water and stay afloat for the next six to eight months. By then, hopefully, we will be discussing a vaccine, fans returning to stadiums, and the Olympics next summer. In the meantime, we as an industry just need to hang tight.

Is the new norm to have broadcasters conduct their work offsite?

BELBEY: The benefit for broadcasters that are on-site is that there are one to two other people in the radio booth with them. This allows them to practice social distancing. Before our broadcasters go back to work, they want to ensure that there is a health and safety plan. For our broadcasters on-site, they need to be provided with information like how they will get there and where will they stay. This then adds another question of whether the overnight amenities are safe and what is the health and safety plan inside the arena. Thankfully, overall, there are fewer people inside stadiums, so you are able to keep your distance.

Are these safety considerations accounted for contractually? If not, are these considerations that will come into play during contract negotiation moving forward?

BELBEY: I think networks have an inherent responsibility to offer broadcasters a safe work environment. However, this is definitely something that could change moving forward. One thing that we have seen in contracts more than ever is the phrase force majeure.  Frankly, this is something we always reviewed, but never really expected to carry this type of weight. Now, we are reading these clauses twenty times over given their weight.

Do you have any advice for law students trying to network during this time?

BELBEY: In law school and college, I would exchange emails and get on the phone with people in various industries. One thing I always knew was that I was not that memorable to them. There are so many emails and phone calls that are happening all day long. This makes it difficult for people to remember you. The best way to network is to grab lunch or a coffee. Obviously, you cannot do that right now, but what you can do is ask someone to grab coffee over Zoom. Honestly, if someone asked me to meet over Zoom six months ago, I would have thought it was weird. But today, this is the way we conduct our business. While there might be people that say no, I do believe face-to-face interactions are more memorable. I think this is a way you can stand out. This is what I would do.

At the end of the day, the vast majority of jobs are based on who you know, not just applying online. This is how I got my job. So, I would encourage law students to put themselves out there.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

People Are Not Machines: An Interview with Terri Gerstein

By: Nadia Abed & Melissa Berouty 

3Ls at Syracuse University College of Law

Terri Gerstein is the Director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and a Senior Fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. She recently completed an Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellowship. Previously, she was the Labor Bureau Chief in the New York State Attorney General’s Office and a Deputy Commissioner in the New York State Department of Labor.

Prior to her government service, Terri worked at nonprofit organizations in Miami, representing immigrant workers and domestic violence survivors, and co-hosting a Spanish-language radio show on workers’ rights. She was a law clerk to the Honorable Mary Johnson Lowe in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and she is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Her writing on workers’ rights issues has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News Think, Slate, the Guardian, Morning Consult, the American Prospect, the Hill, the Nation, and the Daily News, among others.  

Email address: tgerstein@law.harvard.edu; Twitter handle: @TerriGerstein  

Did you always have an interest in worker’s rights?

GERSTEIN: In law school, I knew I wanted to go the public interest route. I spent a year between undergrad and law school in Mexico. This experience led me to want to work with the immigrant community. I also spent a summer interning at a worker’s center on Long Island that worked with immigrants, mainly from El Salvador. This is really what drove me to pursue a career in worker’s rights. After I graduated law school, I got a fellowship and worked for a few years in Miami at nonprofits. I always knew I wanted to use my legal training to achieve social justice in some way. It wasn’t until halfway through law school that I landed on the particular area of workers’ rights.

Later in my career, I began working in government for the New York State Attorney General’s Office in the Labor Bureau. Honestly, when I went to law school, I did not see myself doing government work. I thought I would be a legal services or nonprofit lawyer. However, I ended up working at the Attorney General’s office during an administration that was aggressive in ensuring worker’s rights.

Can you elaborate more on your time working at the Attorney General’s Office?

GERSTEIN: I loved the teamwork aspect of government work. Government work differs from academia and nonprofit work in that when you’re working for the government, you don’t get any credit. The elected person above you gets the credit for everyone’s work. Additionally, you do not have to fundraise, as it’s public work and paid for out of the public budget. This structure—no fundraising and nobody gets credit—encourages collegiality, teamwork, and a focus on the greater mission.

In my opinion, people who are self-promotional in nature would not do well in government work. (This may not be universally true, but it’s been my experience. I have been lucky to work in really great administrations.)

One benefit to government work, if you’re advocating for disempowered people, is that at the end of the day, people call you back when you are calling from the Attorney General’s office. Thus, you have the ability to really bring the power of the government’s office to bear on the problems that working people and those who often do not have power are facing. And you have the ability to address structural problems instead of being limited to individual cases.

What has the pandemic revealed to you about worker’s rights in the United States?

GERSTEIN: Honestly, it has not revealed much to me. I was already aware of the lack of power that workers have, the impunity that too many employers operate with, the disparity of power between employers and workers, the precarity of so many jobs, and the lack of protection from retaliation. I was already very aware of all of these pressing issues. 

But it’s a situation where I would get absolutely no pleasure from saying “I told you so.” We knew these were problems. We knew that workers were disempowered. We knew that there were not enough enforcement resources for workers.

One thing that has been new for me is the focus on workplace safety and health. I always worked at a state level in New York, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has primary authority for enforcement of health and safety in the private sector. At the state level, we didn’t really have as much expertise in this area. Five years ago, we talked about wage theft, worker misclassification, or a whole host of other issues, but not as much about workplace health and safety. I think that this issue has really skyrocketed to the forefront of everyone’s attention because of the current health crisis.

With this, something that has horrified me is the extent to which companies are so cavalier about people’s health and safety. Frankly, I do not know how some of these corporate decisionmakers sleep at night. People are not machines. People are not things. People are unique and irreplaceable. Even if you do not know them, their families love them and they are human beings. The idea that some of these companies have been so utterly cavalier and callous about this – still leaves me speechless. I knew it was bad, but I did think there was a little bit more respect for basic human life.

Do employers have a general duty to ensure workplace safety? With this, do employers have a duty to protect their employers from contracting COVID-19?

GERSTEIN: OSHA has a general duty clause. This entails a duty to provide a workplace that is free from known hazards that could cause fatality or serious injury. In addition to that, there are standards. A standard is a rule that is passed by OSHA that relates to a particular workplace hazard. For example, this could include fall protection or the handling of a particular chemical.

Under the general duty clause, employers have an obligation to provide a workplace where people are not going to be exposed to a foreseeable risk of COVID-19.

In terms of a specific standard, there has been real pressure on OSHA to pass an emergency COVID-19 specific standard. The AFL-CIO filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against OSHA trying to force them to do it. The state of VA passed a standard filling in that gap from the federal government. Additionally, Oregon published a draft emergency standard. [NOTE: in the time since our interview, California also announced its intention to enact a COVID-specific workplace safety standard.]

OSHA has issued substantial amounts of guidance to employers. However, the guidance uses language like “employers should strive to” and “if feasible.” The language used is not really anything that is enforceable, but rather just advice.

There was a recent report by US Department of Labor Inspector General about OSHA’s insufficient handling of whistleblower complaints. In response, OSHA said that it had processed 50% of the COVID-19 related complaints. This means that half of the complaints of individuals who have been fired after complaining of work safety and health have not even been addressed yet. 

A number of states and localities have really stepped up to the plate and have been taking action: issuing Executive Orders, passing laws, and taking enforcement actions to protect workers. Some have been very serious and aggressive about trying to fill the void left by OSHA’s inaction.

Do workers have any rights or protections if they need to stay home because of COVID-19 related circumstances?

GERSTEIN: The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act does offer some paid sick leave and paid family leave. In addition to this, unemployment insurance is administered through the state and each state passes its own set of rules. There are some states that have been flexible in their unemployment rules, in terms of permitting people to get unemployment for a variety of reasons, including COVID-related. However, some states have not been as liberal in this way.

Additionally, there are some states and localities that have paid sick leave laws in place. The new federal law offers some protection, but it exempts far too many people. For example, it exempts employers with over 500 employees. Again, some states and cities have filled in this gap while others have not. So the answer to this question goes back to the typical law school answer, “it depends.” Here, it really depends on what city and state you live in and the size of your employer.

Following up on our previous question, do you believe that these protections are adequate?

GERSTEIN: No, not at all. People need to have comprehensive paid sick days and paid family leave. Even before the pandemic, we were so far behind every industrialized country in this area. There was already a large gap before COVID-19 and now the consequences are very clear to ordinary people in a way that they previously had not been.

In terms of enforcement, the resources are very inadequate and have been for some time. The resources have also atrophied. The Trump administration has not filled many OSHA positions because of attrition. The agency has existed for over 50 years. I believe that the staffing level is at its lowest since its inception.

Additionally, there have been several issues with the unemployment system. Aside from the policy question of what it covers, there are serious administrative issues with the unemployment system. These systems are not set up to assist the millions of individuals that are now applying as a result of the pandemic. They were set up to handle a fraction of that. Again, states have a real opportunity to improve access to unemployment, in addition to paid leave.

Recently, we have seen stories of workers in the gig economy being impacted by the pandemic. You spoke of the OSHA general duty to offer a safe work environment. Does this same standard apply to independent contractors?

GERSTEIN: This is one of the major problems with the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. All of our workplace laws cover employees and not independent contractors. This applies to everything from minimum wage laws to workers’ compensation laws. Paid leave and safe workplace guarantees are issues that have been very salient during the pandemic.

A company that has employees has a duty to provide a safe workplace. But this doesn’t apply for independent contractors. Some of these gig economy companies have made a big show saying “we gave masks to our drivers/shoppers.” Setting aside the fact these companies have given workers one or two flimsy masks…if they were employees, it would be a legal obligation to provide protective equipment and a safe workplace. This would not be considered an act of generosity or benevolence. Similarly, with paid sick days, it would be a right under the law. The fact that misclassified workers do not have these protections was a problem before the pandemic, but again the problem is more stark now. It’s very important for government at both the state and federal level to crack down on the illegal treatment of workers as independent contractors when they should be employees with all of the related protections.

 Is there any particular group of workers that you feel are most at risk for poor working conditions during the pandemic?

GERSTEIN: There is a lot of vulnerability in the health care sector, like workers in hospitals and workers in nursing homes. Additionally, workers in various parts of the food chains like farmworkers, meatpacking, and warehouse workers have all been at a very high risk. Immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable for a variety of reasons. Additionally, undocumented workers are even more at risk given a fear of deportation.

The health risks are also borne by workers who deal with the public a lot. In the early stages of the pandemic, there were a lot of transit workers who were impacted. Obviously, the spread of COVID-19 in the prison system is a huge criminal justice issue, but also the working conditions of correction officers creates a workplace issue as well.

Also, the concern arises as schools at every level have begun to reopen. This has created a big area of concern for teachers, teachers’ unions, and students. I have a sister who is a seventh-grade public school teacher. Honestly, I worry about her.

What do you think the most pressing issue in worker’s rights is right now?

GERSTEIN: There are both short-term and long-term ways to answer this question. Short term, OSHA should issue a temporary emergency standard. If OSHA does not do this, states should do so. OSHA should start aggressively enforcing the law and publicizing it. If OSHA does not do this, states should do everything they can. OSHA should also staff up.

At the end of the day, keeping people safe is important because they are human beings. It is also important if you want to reopen the economy. Unless this gets dealt with in a serious way, COVID-19 spreading through workplaces does not help with reopening in a lasting manner.

Longer-term, there needs to be a recalibration of the balance of power between workers and employers. It needs to be easier for workers to organize into unions. We also need to address corporate concentration and monopsony. The extreme power of corporations is to the detriment of worker power and leaves workers in a difficult position.

Short term, we need to focus on workplace safety in a very intense and concentrated way. Long term, changing the power dynamic is what needs to happen.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Two Major Outbreaks Facing Latin America: Dengue and COVID-19

By: Ann Ciancia

3L at Syracuse University College of Law

During this summer I was a writer for the Borgen Project, a non-profit organization that helps fight global poverty. I was able to research different countries that were and are currently affected by poverty. It has been interesting to learn about how COVID-19 has had such a drastic impact on impoverished communities and fascinating to learn about the unique ways different countries handle healthcare, education, working, and much more throughout the pandemic.

The people of Latin America currently face two major epidemics at once. Dengue and COVID-19 in Latin America have killed thousands and continue to impact citizens. Although dengue is not extremely fatal, the combination of a coronavirus diagnosis can lead to serious complications. The clash of these two epidemics have created hardships for each country and brought governmental attention to healthcare and climate change.

Dengue in Latin America

Dengue, or breakbone fever, only affected nine countries in 1970, but currently, more than 100 countries are affected by this tropical disease. Dengue is a vector-borne disease, similar to malaria or yellow fever; where the saliva from a female mosquito transmits this disease to a human. An individual diagnosed with dengue experiences high fever, joint pain, severe headaches, and vomiting.

In 2019, more than 1,300 Latin Americans died from dengue disease, with more than 3.1 million confirmed cases, which was a record high. Major outbreaks of dengue in Latin America have increased and expanded into new mountainous regions. Scientists believe climate change is a major factor since non-tropical areas are being affected. Climate change has major consequences from increased rainfall and flooding that lead to changes in mosquitoes’ reproduction habits. The ecosystem has gradually declined in high altitude regions due to climate change, which led to an increase in dengue outbreaks.

While COVID-19 currently impacts Latin America, severe dengue outbreaks are currently impacting Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Bolivia has witnessed a severe dengue outbreak, where there were 7,000 new cases in March 2020 alone. The Andes Mountain Range is located within Bolivia, where three years ago, mosquitos were unheard of, due to a very high altitude. This epidemic increased due to changing weather conditions, where there has been a major increase in heavy rainfall. The local government in Bolivia declared the dengue epidemic to be a national emergency. 

COVID-19 in Latin America

During the beginning of the global pandemic, Latin America took a back seat and watched as the rest of the world suffered from the coronavirus. Currently, Latin America is becoming the new epicenter of the outbreak. There are more than 920,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and about 50,000 deaths across the 33 countries of Latin America. Currently, Latin America is positioned in the world’s only region where the outbreak continues to spread drastically.

Latin America’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was in February 2020. The first death was recorded in March 2020 but the region maintained control for months. The numbers began to surge in May and many countries were without proper testing kits, protective wear, and basic health supplies to help stop the spread.

Response to Two Epidemics: Dengue and COVID-19

In 2019, the World Health Organization identified dengue as one of the top ten global health threats, where more than 40 percent of the global population is at risk. The Red Cross is working with countries affected by the dengue outbreak to help local communities manage with the current and potential future outbreaks. The Red Cross, along with local health organizations, work to identify the source of the outbreak and what hygiene measures should be implemented in order to reduce a further spread.

SC Johnson donated 125,000 insect repellant and insecticide products to families in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The company wants to help individuals protect their self from mosquitos. SC Johnson also helped to educate at-risk families on how to use mosquito repellant. Since the beginning of the program initiative in 2016, SC Johnson helped more than 900,000 families in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Currently, the World Bank disperses around $2 billion to Latin American and Caribbean countries in response to COVID-19. These funds will help increase health systems and disease observation, reduce losing patients from this disease, and lower the pandemic’s economic impact. In Bolivia, the Emergency Safety Nets for the Covid-19 Crisis aims to decrease economical consequences from the overpopulated health care system from coronavirus.

Dengue and COVID-19 in Latin America have impacted many lives. The clash of these two epidemics created hardships for countries in Latin America. Countries have utilized insect repellants to protect against the spread of dengue fever and took precautionary measures through stay-at-home orders and wearing masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

For further information, please see:

Reliefweb – Community action against Dengue – 7 Jan. 2020

Aljazeera – ‘Dengue kills too’: Latin America faces two epidemics at once – 12 May 2020

The New Humanitarian – Is Global Warming Driving the Spread of Dengue Across Latin America? – 27 Apr. 2020

CSRwire – SC Johnson Donates Mosquito Repellents to Help At-Risk Families in Latin America – 7 May 2020

CNN – The World’s new Covid-19 epicenter could be the worst yet – 30 May 2020

The World Bank – World Bank’s Response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) In Latin America & Caribbean – 2 Apr. 2020 

Finding Normalcy

By: Katherine Davis

2L at Syracuse University College of Law

Coming into my 1L year, I was advised to keep a routine schedule. This was to ensure that I stayed on top of my readings, didn’t become overwhelmed, and to generally stay organized. Quickly, I found my routine.

Wake up. Shower, brush hair and teeth, throw on clothes. Breakfast, followed by a quick drive to Dineen Hall. Class after class, studying and a lunch break stuffed in between. A few meetings, and then back home to dinner, more studying, and sleep. Wake up, repeat. 

I learned quickly to adjust my schedule to accommodate social events and some unexpected changes, like a shift in exam dates. I never thought I would have to adapt my entire schedule, my entire lifestyle. Then, COVID-19 arrived in New York. 

“Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13: All College of Law Classes Online; Dineen Hall Open” the beginning of the email read. I could handle online classes for the last two days before Spring Break. The rest of the email indicated that online classes would continue through March 30. An extended Spring Break, or so I thought. 

March 30 came and went, and the College of Law remained online. The entire world seemed to shut down overnight, and in New York, it did. A mandatory quarantine, no stores or restaurants open, no social gatherings, no return to campus. Nothing was normal. 

Wake up. Snooze. Wake up, roll over, open my laptop. Login, mute camera and microphone. Slowly zone out as the voice of the Professor drones on and on. Join the next lecture, struggle with my internet connection, give up as I realize I can go back and watch a recording of class later that day. Lunch, minimal studying since learning my exams would be open book. Video games, too much Netflix, asleep by 2 AM. Wake up, repeat. 

After months, I finally see my friends again, albeit six feet apart and hidden behind masks. It was nice getting out, away from the couch. I quickly learned that I was not the only one struggling with finding a routine and general motivation. That, many of my friends, were concerned with the beginning of the Fall semester and the online classes we would all struggle with without motivation. They all just wanted things to go back to normal. I don’t think it ever will. This has become our new normal.

Normal is wearing a mask everywhere you go. Normal is virtual classrooms, review sessions, and happy hours. Normal is constant emails from the university, reminding you that you can go nowhere, see no one, and do nothing that could risk exposing yourself or others. Normal is hand sanitizer. A lot of it.

With classes now returning, mostly online, I must find a new routine, new motivation, a new normal. Normal will become the routine I choose to follow.