COVID-19: How it Affects Students’ Lives

By: Anthony Arena, Contributor

Students following new COVID protocols after returning to school.

COVID-19 As a Whole

COVID-19 has thrown the lives of people around the world into chaos, and after nearly two whole years since the virus first became prominent, we are still fighting it. In September 2021, COVID-19 cases in the US hit their highest since January. The biggest difference between our current state and then are the vaccines -Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson&Johnson- that have all been produced to help fight against COVID-19. However, only 76.0% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine according to the CDC. While there is no official percentage that would get the US to herd immunity, it could realistically take upwards of 85% of the population getting vaccinated. Before, many were concerned about the trustworthiness of the vaccines because of how quickly they were developed, as well as because the vaccines were not fully approved by the FDA. Now, the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA, and the US has still not reached the targeted vaccination numbers that would help end the pandemic.

How Does COVID-19 Affect Students?

People who are under the age of 18 have a very low chance of having a severe case of COVID-19 if infected, yet numbers suggest that youth and young adults should not be completely oblivious to the spread of the virus. As found in a John Hopkins Medical study (Coronavirus and COVID-19: Younger Adults Are at Risk, Too) , “Over the summer [2021], in the United States, people under age 30 accounted for more than 20% of COVID-19 cases and were seen as more likely to transmit the virus than others. This trend has continued into the fall.” This shows people under the age of 30 pose a threat not only to themselves, but to others as well when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. This increase in spread could eventually affect people at higher risk.

Also in the past few weeks and months, hospitalizations of people 5-17 years of age have been on the rise. The New York Times (Least Vaccinated States Lead Spike in Children’s Cases, Leaving Some Hospitals Stretched) shows the recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in younger age groups has even surpassed numbers seen from the worst part of the pandemic. This article also shows that while overall cases in younger individuals are surging, the case count is consistent in the ten most vaccinated states, while the spikes are being seen in the ten least vaccinated states.  These spikes in COVID-19 cases in younger individuals are causing hospitals in those areas to become overwhelmed. These data illustrate the importance of getting vaccinated. 

Another way that the virus affects students is the way it has affected communities of color. 56% of Payton students are people of color, and people of color are much more likely to be hospitalized and have severe cases of COVID-19. The main reason why this trend has emerged is because there is a large concentration of POC in lower income communities that do not have the same access to public health services that people in higher income communities have. This leads to fewer people in these communities getting the proper care they need, as well as the proper information they need about the vaccine and other preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus.

One the upside, people age 12-17 in Chicago are on average more likely to be vaccinated than the Illinois average for that age range, (71.75% compared to 62.10% as of 9/27/21). Despite those numbers trending upwards they still show that about 3 of every 10 people aged 12-17 are not vaccinated. This is a number that will have to change to help the pandemic end.

HOW THE VIRUS AFFECTS LEARNING

Students have already had almost a whole school year online because of COVID-19, during which the curriculum had to be heavily adjusted to fit the online setting. Students did not have as much access to teachers as they normally would have had. Additionally, students were not able to communicate with their peers as well as they would have been able to had they been in person. Now that Payton is back to full time in-person learning, students have to adapt to an everyday school setting once again; a transition that may be challenging.

To learn more about how COVID-19 has affected teaching as well as learning, Mrs. Moroney, a Physics and Chemistry teacher at Payton, was interviewed about how COVID-19 has affected her teaching method, and what she has learned through the experience. 

Paw Print: Since you teach classes like chemistry, a class that has a lot of hands-on activity, what are some of the biggest adjustments that you have had to make in post-COVID in person learning?

Mrs. Moroney: “One of the main concerns, first of all, is the safety of our students, and maintaining sanitary conditions. We also were really trying to make sure that our students that were spending their learning experiences at home last year still had an opportunity to safely engage with the lab, so for the first few classes we did have quite a few like hands-on laboratory activities planned. Normally we would pay more attention to conserving materials, yet because of COVID, we cannot reuse tools without constant cleaning so we’re being a bit more wasteful, but we’re a bit more careful with respect to COVID safety. Something that I wish we could problem-solve around is that our class sizes are really large. We’ve got about 30 students in the lab, and we have limited supplies, so it is a challenge for us to maintain safe distances while engaging with lab activities.”

Paw Print: What has been the biggest change or challenge that you’ve encountered in post-online teaching overall?

Mrs. Moroney: “The way that we were engaging in learning and in social environments was radically impacted in the past year and a half when we were isolated. We wanted to carve out some space for kids just to remember what it felt like to be in a room with a bunch of other kids. There were also some study skills that have not developed as they would have if students had always been in the building. For example, staying on task, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way that students are able to focus while in the classroom. I think that that was a big impact from our time spent in isolation.”

Paw Print: What do you miss most about pre-pandemic schooling?

Mrs. Moroney: “I don’t view it as a loss, It was a real challenge, but I do think that we emerged with some positives. I think it helped me as an educator learn what I need to continue teaching students to be successful. I think it also helped us remember how lucky we are to be at a place like Payton, where we can engage in a healthy and productive learning community, and push one another. Last year, I think it was hard for students because they couldn’t see what each other were thinking, and also they didn’t have access to casually pull the teacher aside and say, ‘hey, I didn’t understand that’. I’m grateful that we’re back in the classroom because all of those things that we used to take for granted now feel wonderful.”

Paw Print: Do you think students and staff members at CPS schools who are vaccine eligible should be required to get the vaccine?

Mrs. Moroney: “I am personally strongly in favor of vaccination. I think it is our best defense against this really dangerous global pandemic where we’ve seen incredible loss. Even September alone had the highest death rates since last February, but last February we did not have a vaccinated population. The reason that we continue to see those deaths is because so much of our population remains unvaccinated. There’s a long established history of required vaccinations, to engage particularly in things like public services, for example, measles, mumps, and rubella. So yes I am in favor of COVID-19 vaccination.”

WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP

With fall just starting and winter right around the corner, people are going to be spending more time with others, celebrating the holidays or going out with friends. Be sure to follow health and safety protocols at all times. Wear your mask, stay home if you are feeling sick, get tested if you are sick, and remember that it is extremely important to protect yourself and your peers from COVID-19. 

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