After over two months of quarantine, Westchester is approaching the highly anticipated reopening process. Many of us are hoping for a return to normal, to the way it was before the pandemic. In a time of so much disorder, it can be hard to take a moment for reflection. However, in many ways this novel virus has challenged our running definition of normal. During these remaining days that life is on pause due to quarantine, we should take some time to determine what new normal we hope to create in the future.
On an individual level, as a junior in high school, the experience of taking classes online opened my eyes to the many ways that I have taken my school experience for granted. Rye Country Day is doing a great job with online classes. In several of my classes, we still had lots of course content to go over before AP exams in May, and my teachers pivoted to teach us online with remarkable ease. While online, however, it is impossible for classes to follow the same format that they once did. Class discussions have always allowed me to engage with the material in a more intimate way; hearing my classmate’s thoughts opens me up to perspectives that I may have never considered otherwise. On Zoom, we can have a discussion, but such discussions are severely limited. Body language becomes nonexistent on Zoom, so in the absence of the social cues that would once spur on the conversation many opt not to share their opinion at all. Similarly, online school lacks the trivial social interactions that are scattered throughout the school day. No matter how busy you may be, throughout the school day, there are multiple interactions with people in the halls or in the lag time before classes.
This is by no means an attempt to criticize online school but rather a suggestion to not take these small things for granted when we return to school. Going into senior year, I am glad to have a moment to reflect on these things before it was too late. Next year I plan on valuing each teacher’s class plan, cherishing each interaction that I have with my friends no matter how small, engaging more thoroughly in discussions, and appreciating every school lunch more than I did this year.
The coronavirus crisis has unfortunately brought to the forefront the many ways in which our system is not working. However, this can be a hinge moment in history in which we seek reforms. Over 33 million Americans have lost their jobs so far; a crisis of this scale hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. After policy makers have placed unemployment benefits on the back burner for so many years, the current system is unable to handle a crisis of this scale. Because unemployment benefits are state regulated, the generosity of the benefits vary state to state. Additionally, the outdated method by which states receive claims has led to problems with Americans receiving both their federal CARES Act stimulus check and also their regular unemployment benefits. For example, in Florida, nineteen people have filed lawsuits after not receiving their benefits for eight weeks after former Governor Rick Scott altered the website to make it particularly difficult to access.
The unemployment crisis is just one of the many ramifications of inequality that the coronavirus has exposed. In contrast to the rhetoric surrounding coronavirus as “the great equalizer,” lower income and marginalized Americans are more vulnerable to the virus. Despite composing only fourteen percent of the population, African Americans comprise about forty percent of coronavirus cases. At its core, this discrepancy can be accounted for by structural racism and economic inequality. Further, people of color tend to hold both the highest risk jobs and low wage jobs; homeless and incarcerated individuals are involuntarily left vulnerable to the virus. The rampant inequality in America currently will only be exacerbated by the end of the pandemic if left unchecked.
The reemergence of nature into some urbanized areas during lockdown has offered optimism in the fight against global warming. Without as much commotion, animals are observed to be encroaching further into cities and staying for longer. With much of the global economy shut down, air pollution is decreasing in major cities, less greenhouse gasses are being emitted, and less people are travelling. However, while there may be some temporary improvements to the environment, the Trump administration has also quietly rolled back on many environmental regulations during the pandemic. For instance, the administration rolled back on fuel efficiency regulations in the automobile industries; the result of which will be an additional one billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over the next five years. The administration has also removed penalties for companies that do not comply with the federal air pollution law despite a strong correlation between air pollution and severity of COVID-19.
The issues that are important to me may not be as important to you, and the way in which you define the new normal is completely individual. Regardless, I implore you to use this remaining time in quarantine to reflect. Hopefully looking back at this crisis, all of us can find a way in which we made meaningful improvement to our lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *