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One Year of COVID: Looking Back Looking Forward

by Angelie Rodriguez

Photo taken by Savannah Torres.

March 1st, 2020. That was the day that Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in New York State which would set the ball rolling for the many months of fear, sorrow, and uncertainty that lay ahead. Below, various East Side students answered a series of questions reflecting on the difficult year.

Question: How did you feel when you heard about the first COVID case in New York State? Were you worried, scared? Did you not really pay much attention to it?

I felt like it wasn’t that big of a deal until there were many racist comments towards Asians and that there was going to be a lockdown. ~ Angelika Haralampopoulos, 10th grade

It was in the back of my head for a while. ~ Benito Castro, 12th grade

I was a bit concerned because I was worried that it would spread. ~ Aaliyah Horton, 9th grade

For about the first week, things were on edge. No one really knew what would become of the state once the first case was announced. No one expected the situation to escalate the way it did. That is until March 7, 2020, when Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency. New York City began releasing guidelines: avoid dense or crowded places, try not to take packed buses and trains, cancel or postpone events with 500+ people. Then Broadway shut down and on March 13, 2020, former President Donald Trump declared a national emergency for COVID-19.

Question: When it was clear that the situation with COVID-19 was getting more serious, what were your thoughts?

How are people going to complain about a pandemic and not follow the protocols put in place to work through it? Even if we find out that masks don't really work in the end, it's a minor inconvenience. You're not going to die from wearing a mask. ~ Anonymous 10th grader

When COVID was starting to get serious and they started to send students home, I figured that it was only going to be for a short while. I was a little worried in the moment but I thought it would be fine as time passed. ~ Anonymous 12th grader

It was sort of unreal at first. I still couldn't believe that this might be a huge problem, I was just happy to get a break from school. ~ Anonymous 9th grader

On March 14, 2020, the first two COVID deaths were reported in New York State. This caught the attention of many New York residents, and it was the point where the anxiety started to rise. After that, everything seemed to go by in a blur. On March 15, the C.D.C recommended no gatherings of 50+ people in the United States, and on March 16, 2020, NYC public schools closed. This is when not only adults, but students as well began to be affected, for it was when they had to make the rough transition to remote learning, which would ultimately continue for the rest of the academic year.

Question: When schools were closed and you had to experience this sudden change from in person learning to learning from a device screen, what were you feeling or thinking? Was it difficult for you or did you adapt well?

I felt pretty good about the sudden change from in person to online. I already have experience of going on computers and phones since I was little. After school, I would go online and hang out with friends. Nothing too different or major. There is an online community that is different to the in person social community. I would say, I was more on the online community which made the transition from in person to online easier. ~ Andy Xie, 12th grade

I adapted very well and thought it was easier to do school ~ Mia Casella, 10th grade

As soon as schools closed I called a close friend and we ranted about how difficult it was to be away from school for a month or however long it was. We already started making plans for when we could come back to school. Little did we know it would last more than a year. But at first I was sure it was just going to pass. ~ Tigerlily Hopson, 12 grade

On March 22, 2020 the “New York State on PAUSE” executive order was issued which meant that all non-essential workers must stay home. This continued to be extended along with school’s closure. Many things happened after March 22, but essentially the state was on lockdown and many New Yorkers were forced to quarantine at home until Governor Cuomo gave the green light for things to slowly start reopening (with restrictions). COVID deaths, hospitalizations, and the number of positive cases were peaking. Masks began to be required in public places, and the state of emergency was extended to June 13, 2020.

Question: What was it like for you being basically stuck at home? Were there any times where you felt depressed? What was it like for you to not have that person to person interaction that you were so used to having?

I don't think I was that depressed, I was just bored in the beginning. It felt like a movie and I felt like I wasn't actually living, which was a weird feeling, but I don't think I was depressed. I still texted my friends a lot and Face Timed them but what kept me going was that I thought it was going to be a brief period of quarantine. I just kept thinking: We'll be fine in the summer. Everything will be back to normal in the summer. ~ Sabrina Michelena, 10th grade

There were times where I would be upset that I was stuck at home and couldn’t go outside. I could only physically interact with those I lived with ~ Aaliyah Fernandez, 10th grade

I would always be stuck in my room on my phone since we weren't able to go out. I would stay in my house without going outside for weeks straight. ~ Pamela Abreu, 9th grader

A couple of months later, summer started approaching. However, even though New York City was going forward with the phases of re-opening, the guidelines remained the same: try to avoid dense places, don't expose yourself if it’s not necessary, practice social distancing, wear your masks, wash your hands. Some people heeded to these recommendations, while others did not, but it was hard for young people nonetheless. Summer is probably one of the most looked forward seasons of the year. It’s the time where family members gather, enjoy a barbeque in the yard, go shopping, go to pools, parks, and beaches. However, it seemed that a lot of those normalcies wouldn’t happen with the COVID-19 pandemic still underway.

Question: Some people were in more of a quarantine than others, but overall what was a summer inside like for you? How did you keep yourself busy considering not being able to do most of the things you would normally do in the warm weather?

I honestly found myself going insane so I spent a lot of time with family ~ Thalia Villanueva, 12th grade

Chillin ~ Anonymous 10th grader

I was furious at the way I was forced to spend my summer. Almost all of my family is in Ukraine, and we would visit them every summer. This summer I was forced to stay in the city, and I haven't seen my grandma, aunt, or cousins in over a year. However, I'm luckier than most because my family tried our best to spend as much time camping as possible whenever my dad didn't have work. ~ Anonymous 9th grader

As the beginning of the next school year neared, schools started preparing for a reopening at limited capacity. While elementary schools reopened on September 29, 2020, middle schools and highschools remained remote until October 1, where blended students would go back to the building. This long awaited privilege was short lived though because as students and staff continued to test positive, schools would go remote for days depending on the results of the investigation, creating disappointment and an inconsistency for both staff and students. To add on to the disarray, politics started getting involved especially with election day which would take place a month after. Moderna and Pfizer were also releasing their efficacy results for their vaccines throughout November and December, giving people hope despite the slow pace of the development. As Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were approaching, the Governor, Mayor, and the C.D.C started expressing concerns that COVID-19 cases would spike amid people traveling and visiting their families, and a once enjoyable and happy time of the year turned into a glum one.

Question: How were the holidays different for you this year? How did you feel about not being able to spend the holidays as you would normally do?

The holidays were different. I'm used to having a bunch of family members over and because of COVID no one could really come over for the holidays. It sucked not being able to see my family. ~ Jenayah Rivera, 10th grade

It wasn’t that different, holidays were always kept small in my family. ~ Anonymous 10th grader

With all of us being in quarantine, not much happened on the holidays. Since we couldn't go outside, I wasn't able to visit my relatives outside the state like I used to every year. It felt really different without seeing them like I used to every year. ~ Anonymous 12th grader

Now in 2021, things have been advancing and getting much better than they once were. New York State now has a better control of the pandemic than in the beginning, and we are slowly but adamantly getting back to some form of normality. Despite that, March 1, 2021 marked the first year of COVID, which encouraged adults and students not only in NYS but all around the world as well, to reflect on the eventful year.

Question: What has this one year of COVID been like for you? Are you feeling hopeful, hopeless, grateful, depressed? For those who have been mostly restrained in their homes because of health conditions or strict parents, what has a year inside been like for you? What do you miss about normal life?

I always look back on the families who were impacted hard by COVID, either through displacement, financial issues, or health issues. I hope that no more families go through it, and I hope that it doesn't happen to my own family. I feel grateful that nothing has happened to my family and friends, and I feel hopeful for the future, especially moving into college. We now have a bunch of vaccines and trials (thanks Finley lol) and we have a new administration that will work to keep us safer. I miss being able to meet with friends ~ Lavon Sykes, 12th grade

It feels like a LONG WEEKEND not depressed or anything like that. But I do miss seeing my friends everyday like I usually would but we are always calling. ~ Justin Chavez, 10th grade

I hate COVID with a passion, but at this point I'm just eternally grateful that things aren't worse. Despite this kind of life not being ideal, I still have it much easier than others out there do. Things can always be worse, I'm thankful for everything. It's hard, but it will be over some day. ~ Anonymous 9th grader

However, with three COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA and the NYC population beginning to get vaccinated, we can now feel some optimism. Now with a new president, President Joe Biden, the United States is on the path to getting back on track, and with the guidance of the NYC officials, we are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Middle school and high school students have gone back for in person learning. Governor Cuomo is steadily opening up more places like museums, movie theaters, and malls at 50 percent capacity. Hospitalizations and the amount of positive cases and deaths are lowering, and vaccination centers have opened across the boroughs to allow New Yorkers to get vaccinated. According to President Biden, by May 1, 2021, the vaccines will be open to everyone to receive. With the steady advancements, we can now have hope that things will go back to normal. Even if that normal will be altered with some added regulations, we won’t have to be so scared of catching this disease. We will be able to see our families and not have to be restricted from hugging them. We won’t have to worry about the burden of wearing a mask. We will be able to put all of this negativity behind us, and start anew.

Question: What will you do first when COVID is in the past? What do you look forward to most?

I look forward to going places with friends again and eating out more. ~ Anonymous 12th grader

Be OUTSIDE ~ Anonymous 10th grader

I will look forward to most having my life back to normal. ~ Anonymous 10th grader

Despite the eventful first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, students are looking ahead with eyes full of hope for the future.

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