A year of COVID-19
As ICCSD passes a year in quarantine, students reflect on the events they experienced and the lessons they learned.
March 31, 2021
On March 13, 2020, ICCSD closed schools for two weeks in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, a year into the pandemic, life is just starting to return to normal.
With how fast the pandemic came along in the spring of 2020, many students were left floundering as they attempted to stay safe and keep up with school their mental wellbeing. Most students never predicted that quarantine would last for much longer than a month or two, and the idea of not going back to school in the fall was unheard of.
“My predictions were that it would simply dissolve after we had a month or so of shutdown, and I thought more people would take it seriously and stay inside,” said Garrison Schamberger ’23. “I expected that we would all be able to go back to school and life would return to normal.”
With responses to the pandemic often being laxer than official CDC guidelines, a lot of students felt disappointed as the numbers continued to get worse and worse.
“At first, I thought, ‘We won’t let it get that bad,’” said Akshethaa Naveen-Kumar ’24. “But here we are, more than a year into the pandemic. I didn’t think it would completely take over my life until spring break was ‘extended.’ It ended up being a lot worse than I thought.”
As the pandemic stretched on, it became more and more clear that quarantine wasn’t going to be over any time soon. Many students had assumed that COVID-19 would be no worse than the flu and that it would ease up as temperatures grew warmer in the summer. But this turned out to be false.
“I totally underestimated what COVID-19 could really do and I was naive,” said Hana Abou Alaiwa ’23. “Once I really understood what the virus could do, I was genuinely afraid. Not just for myself, but for everyone. Now, it’s not like I understand the virus completely, but I know what it can do and the virus really does scare me sometimes still.”
Schools soon began to shift to operating online, and students had to get used to a completely new system. Online school required students to be self-sufficient, organized and motivated, and it limited the amount of collaboration and activities that students could do to help them learn.
“What has changed the most during this year is, at least for me, is the reliance on technology,” Schamberger said. “We, as a society, have used technology more than ever before during this pandemic. We have online school now and the extinction of the snow day because of it.”
“I wish I could have finished my freshman year 100 percent in-person,” Schamberger said. “If I could have finished my year 100 percent in-person, my course load for this year—my sophomore year—would not have been so difficult.”
The change to online is especially different for freshmen who started off the year going to a school they had barely seen in person. Feeling connected to their home school and making new friends was especially difficult for freshmen this fall.
“I’m a ninth grader right now and I definitely did not expect my first year in high school to be like this. I’ve heard that the freshman year is the easiest, and it felt kind of sad to spend it totally online,” Naveen-Kumar said. “When I go back to school—whenever that is—I won’t even know how to navigate around the building, which isn’t even that big of a deal, but when someone asks me what school I go to, it doesn’t really feel right to say West High, because I’ve never actually been there for any reason besides volleyball or basketball practice [or] games.”
Now, a year into the pandemic, the vaccine is becoming more readily available and an end finally seems in sight. But COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on life even after everyone is vaccinated because it had such a big impact on daily life.
“I used to remind my younger siblings to put on their seatbelt when we went out in the car,” Abou Alaiwa said. “Now I remind them to wash their hands every time we come back, to put on hand sanitizer, don’t take off your mask don’t touch anything in the store. I really stressed the guidelines on my younger siblings because I wanted them to be safe.”
After spending so much time being extremely cautious about health and safety, getting back to normal levels of caution may prove difficult for a lot of people. Many students will still continue to wear masks in public at least for a while after restrictions lift.
“I think a single cough will be taken pretty seriously [in the future]. I also think it might take some time for people to be able to go out in big groups without a mask or a bottle of hand sanitizer on them. It might be really hard to get back to the normal school system. Going from the online model to fully in-person is going to be a struggle for me I think,” Naveen-Kumar said.
Quarantine came on very quickly, with COVID-19 only being in the public consciousness for a few weeks before everything shut down, but it will remain a major life event for years and years to come.
“I just think it’s crazy how fast things can turn around. One second we were like ‘yay, 2020, a new decade’ and then a few months in, and this thing called Coronavirus comes in and takes over,” Naveen-Kumar said. “But I think all we can do is be positive and try to stay safe—keep trudging through this weird and painful time.”
High Risk Individuals
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the world and Iowa City is no exception. Learning was temporarily suspended and then went fully virtual. Each person was faced with a slightly different challenge.
Reagan Yamashita ’22 is one student who has seen the more extreme side of the pandemic. Her mother works in a long-term care facility with positive COVID patients. Due to this, she was one of the first students to take action.
“When it first started my mom was the only person that was allowed to go and get groceries,” said Yamashita. “She would put them in the garage, and then wiped down every single grocery with a disinfectant wipe before she’d bring it into the house.”
Her mother would then change her clothes before entering the house, where she would immediately shower and wash her clothes. Part of this caution was due to her job, and another part was due to an immunocompromised member of the family, Aiden Yamashita.
“My brother has something called TBD, it’s a telomere biology disorder. And essentially what it does is it causes issues with everything else,” said Yamashita. “so my brother has a lot of things he has bone marrow failure. He has liver disease, he has hepatic pulmonary syndrome.”
TBD stands for telomere biology disorder. It is when the telomeres on the end of the chromosome are shorter than normal. This causes a myriad of other issues, the most common being bone marrow failure and lung disease. Since Aiden has hepatic pulmonary syndrome, a liver disease that affects the lungs and ability to carry oxygen, illnesses that attack the respiratory system like COVID are extremely dangerous.
The combined risk of her mother working in a care facility and her brother being extremely high risk caused Yamashita to elect for online classes in the 2020-21 school year. Her online journey began in March 2020 when the district went virtual. When given the option to continue learning or opt to pass, she had to think through her decision.
“I definitely took a pass on math,” said Yamashita. “I think for half of my classes I continued and the other half I just passed because it was rough. There were transitions everywhere and I was stuck in my house.”
When enrolling for the next year, she immediately chose to continue online.
“There was no way I could go to school. When we first went into lockdown my brother lived with us, which was the big problem,” Yamashita said.
Her brother Aiden had moved out for a short period of time and plans to have a liver transplant within the next few months. After the surgery, he will need to move back in to recover.
“[Being online] also left flexibility with his doctor’s appointments and stuff like that,” Yamashita said. “So it wasn’t even a choice, it was just like ‘I’m doing this.’”
Yamashita has remained isolated and stayed home, aside from visiting family and working for her family’s construction company. “I haven’t seen anybody from school in a year. […] The only time I have that flexibility is when I go up and visit my cousins,” Yamashita said.
Like many people stuck at home, Yamashita has had some time to reflect on her mental and the impact this isolation has had on her.
“There were definitely times when it just really sucked because everybody would be home and you couldn’t get out,” Yamashita said. “I couldn’t go to the mall, I couldn’t do anything even if I was by myself, even after Aiden moved out, we couldn’t risk it because my mom had a few COVID scares before she got the vaccination because she was working with positive patients.”
Yamashita has coped with these struggles by communicating with her therapist and providing for a pregnant cat her family took in, and later her kittens. She has also grown closer to her family.
“Family has always been important, but now it’s like there is nothing outside of it,” Yamashita said. “Like whenever there is drama, I’m not like ‘oh my god I need to call Raina,’ it’s like ‘wow I need to go tell my mom’.”
Many students found themselves missing out on lost opportunities, or attending virtual events that just aren’t quite the same. Yamashita found herself in the same boat with BPA competitions.
“I am in BPA. Basically, you compete in different events. My event was prepared speech. Somehow I qualified for nationals. State was online, regionals was online, and nationals was online. I qualified for nations in two events. My brother qualified when he was a senior and went to Anaheim, California for a week and did all this cool stuff. I qualified for nationals and I’m just doing them from my living room,” Yamashita said. “I had a dress shirt on and my pajama pants on, trying not to be caught while I was eating a salad. They were like ‘Reagan, first place!’ and I was like ‘cool, can I turn my camera off now?’”
Yamashita is hopeful to be back in person for her senior year and has a few things on her bucket list.
“[I’d like to] graduate, that’s on the top of my list,” Yamashita said. “I definitely have to go to a dance. I am going to be made fun of if I never go to a high school dance. If I don’t go to a single dance, I will never live that down.”