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.”