“Things will get better. Hang in there! Just keep doing what you are doing, and we will see improvements!” These are just a few of the phrases that citizens have heard since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the United States. I, for one, am frustrated with the fact that there have been few improvements since these statements were first uttered in March. The failure of American leadership to control the spread of COVID-19 at the very beginning has done incomprehensible damage. America, for lack of a better word, is in a rut.
Currently, North Carolina is feeling the brunt of that. According to The New York Times, there has been an average of 5,028 new COVID-19 cases per day in NC. Shockingly, this is a slightly lower number than a couple of weeks ago, as that was when the full consequences of the Thanksgiving holiday appeared. These case numbers do not yet reflect the inevitable impacts that Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and more holidays that were celebrated over the last week will have.
Now, I will not continue this article throwing statistics left and right. What I do want you to do, though, is to picture people that you know and love being among the numbers of those diagnosed with COVID-19 thus far. This is an unfortunate reality for many. Then, I want you to imagine sending children and teachers into schools where there are unavoidable crowds and socialization times, knowing that those actions could be enabling the spread of COVID-19. To top it all off, many students returning to school have traveled, or at least immersed themselves in new social bubbles over the holiday break. Although masks and social distancing measures do help, cases are still rising in these settings. To put it frankly, I am fearful of a healthcare system more overwhelmed than ever before if public schools resume normal operations at the beginning of January.
This is the point in my argument where the opposition would assert that the likelihood of students spreading COVID-19 is much lower than in adults and the elderly population. However, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services cites that adolescents are just as likely to become infected as adults are, and that younger children may be more likely to get COVID-19 from an adult than to spread COVID-19 themselves. Immediately, these statistics make it clear to me that American citizens need to do everything in their power to avoid catching COVID-19. Just because students are not as prone to infection does not mean that it is impossible for them to catch it, nor does it make it acceptable to disregard the lives of adults who work in the school system. Teachers, administration members and staff personnel are just a few who come to mind, not to mention that adolescence spans the entirety of middle and high school students, who are present in schools as well. For this reason, virtual learning must be employed for a brief period of time.
Despite what my sentiments may imply, I am not enamored with the idea of virtual learning, especially for children of younger ages. My current undergraduate program is tracked in the realm of elementary education, and I have seen firsthand the toll that online learning can have on a child’s mental health. However, a different reopening plan must be put into place for the overall health and safety of teachers, school personnel and even students. Rather than resuming virtual learning indefinitely, I am advocating for the implementation of a brief, two to three week virtual learning period so that students can essentially “quarantine” before returning to in-person classes. Some counties have already made this decision, with Craven County being a prime example. The remainder of North Carolina counties should follow suit so that the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the school system would decrease, which would in turn reduce the number of COVID-19 cases across the board.
Finally, I wish to address concerns about the fact that virtual learning is less effective when it comes to students’ academic retention and success. My response is this: students are incredibly resilient, and teachers are capable of meeting students where they are. Students will overcome the barriers associated with virtual learning and utilize the in-person setting to continue growth if they have teachers who are physically and mentally competent to guide them. For the sake of health and safety, for the livelihood of teachers, staff and families, this is the only option. If we truly want conditions to improve and to stop hearing those phrases that we have all heard since the very beginning, this minor adjustment must be made for the greater good of American society.
By Hannah Porter, Opinion Editor