Some 30,000 feet in the air, you wait anxiously as flight attendants walk down the aisle offering snacks and drinks. Later, you sit at home celebrating with family and friends. With arms extended across the table, you clink glasses before taking a sip. If you don’t think too hard, it might feel like things are back to normal.

And yet, the threat of COVID-19 lingers. Things are far from normal, and life will never be like it used to be. At least, not fully.

As of Dec. 5, the CDC reports a cumulative total of 49,002,475 COVID-19 cases in the United States alone. Out of those, there have been 785,655 deaths. To put that into perspective, that’s forty times our own campus population. That’s every student across the UCs and CSUs combined, and then some.

It’s hard to conceptualize this amount of loss and, with society constantly looking to return to normal, it feels like we’re conditioned to be numb to it. There are not enough hours in the day to let everything sink in, but we cannot continue to be desensitized to mass death any longer.

As of Dec. 5, there’s a weekly average of 103,823 cases per day in the US, and the new Omicron variant in the picture. Still, airlines are expecting to see record highs in flight passengers since March 2020 according to the New York Times, with figures fast approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Universities will shut down campus services for break, making students lose access to vital resources. Institutions leave people no choice but to travel and return to work, even if it isn’t safe for them — or anyone else.

Whether it’s traveling, eating out, partying, or anything else, the choices we make have lasting consequences on our communities. Neglecting safety measures and protocols puts more people at risk, especially those who are immunocompromised, poor, houseless, or disabled.

Things that we may take for granted, like free COVID-19 tests on campus and places to socially isolate and quarantine, are not privileges that everyone has access to. By refusing to take this pandemic seriously, we become complicit in proliferating it.

With so much out of our control, it’s possible we’re feeling some sense of futility and dread. It’s hard to take COVID-19 seriously when everyone around us seems like they’ve stopped caring. It’s even harder to feel safe and cared for in the presence of those who treat COVID-19 as simply a minor inconvenience, or as a thing of the past.

Surrounded by maskless friends and family, the anxiety many of us are feeling is very real. The holiday season is a time of celebration and joy, but that also means remembering who and what we’ve lost.

As you go home this winter break, we urge you to help keep yourself and your communities safe. If you have easy access to COVID-19 tests, take them. If you can self-isolate, do it. When you return to Santa Cruz early next year, continue to get tested frequently, and remain diligent about mask-wearing and social distancing.

Despite relaxed federal and state responses to COVID-19, this is what we owe each other.