Every day I cover at least one current event topic with my sophomore Global History and Geography classes. Recently, only one issue dominates the coronavirus. We began our discussions a month ago by looking at China and predicting the impact on the economy. As the days progressed, we viewed pictures taken by NASA showing diminishing nitrogen dioxide output due to the reduction of Chinese industrial production. My students were not concerned. I was not worried. Haven’t we weathered so many other health and global scares? Sure, we looked at pictures of the 11 million Chinese people under lockdown, but those were people in a foreign country, a place we will most likely never travel.
And, then coronavirus spread. Now, I have a map displayed where the virus has been detected. I am giving economic lessons about the stock market and we are comparing the 1918 Flu with our current situation. I remain calm, reassuring the students that they will be fine, but we need to wash our hands to protect their grandparents. One student declares, “I am terrified.” I console him with what the CDC has said and how many people who have recovered. The kids tell me how the local Wegmans is out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. And, yet, our hometown in Central New York has had no reported cases.
At first, the students grow excited about the possibility of school closing, until we discuss the financial impacts of parents out of work and the fact that AP tests and final exams still need to happen. (What if teachers do not get paid?)
A student, whose mother is a nurse at a local hospital, tells us that there is a shortage of ventilators. This leads to the real issue, which is that our hospitals cannot handle a major influx of patients who need such invasive treatment.
We study the federal and state leader’s responses. We watch news conferences to learn that prison inmates are making NY Clean brand hand sanitizer. We chuckle, nervously. Governor Cuomo declares that the sanitizer has a floral bouquet! I wonder if anyone really knows how this will end?
Most recently, we researched the Italian government’s response and shook our heads as 60 million people attempt to control the biggest outbreak in Europe.
As the days go by, I feel the level of tension increasing. It’s like we are all looking at each other with a concern that it might just be too late to do much to mitigate the impact of this new normal.
Ultimately, we can’t dwell on our fears and so my teaching returns to the study of the second world war and the leadership of Mao Zedong.
The bells ring.
Life continues in the Age of Anxiety.
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