SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — One of SOMA’s pride and joys is its independent youth. But how do they affect the way social distancing has been going in our community and how are they being affected by the coronavirus pandemic specifically?
Since researchers continue to put out reports on the low likelihood of young, healthy people developing life-threatening responses to coronavirus, many high school and college students around the nation are deeming themselves safe from the extreme effects of COVID-19.
When college kids participate in their extremely social spring break plans — for example, at Florida beaches on spring break until local officials started shutting them down this week — their excuse is “it can’t hurt us, we’re fine.” But, for the most part, it seems that SOMA (Mapso to them) youth don’t share these opinions.
Jesse Whelansmall, Columbia High School senior, said that he is behaving “kind of socially distant.” For him, that means going to the reservation with no more than a couple friends, and continuing to go on runs. He explained, “so far it seems my life is pretty much the same.” He shared that his main concern right now is the health of his parents and grandparents, and his brother, who has prior lung issues. Jesse also holds concerns for how curve-flattening societal modifications will affect him going forward. “I’m not really sure how this will affect my graduation, my prom.” He said he is disappointed “to not have the things you’re supposed to have [as a senior].” Further, he’s concerned about next year and whether the economy — along with the inability to visit colleges — will affect his college decision-making process. All in all, Jesse says he is scared for “society as a whole” as he brought up statistics about unemployment potentially reaching 20 percent and the fact that the worst has yet to come, because, he said, “at this point we’re just a week out from where Italy is.”
Fellow CHS class of 2020 student Atticus Whipple said when coronavirus hit the news back in December he didn’t pay attention. “When this [all] started… I was very uninformed,” he said. The South Orange resident said that “once it got to the U.S. I was like, shit!” He started to get nervous when other school systems started “shutting down” and expressed his disapproval of South Orange Maplewood School District’s delayed action: “Columbia [was] still very open, as always.” Once the district closed, then he felt “something serious is happening now, this isn’t a meme any more on Instagram.”
Atticus is now taking on social distancing by “chilling at my house alone.” He realized this past Sunday the severity of the situation. “This isn’t a normal two-week break,” he said. To avoid cabin fever, he is getting out of the house but still practicing social distancing when outside.
Every college campus has been affected by the pandemic differently. New Jersey Institute of Technology sophomore and CHS class of 2018 alumnus Anthony Agu felt “defeated” in terms of fighting coronavirus even a few months ago. “We got people from more than 100 countries at NJIT,” he said, and because of this, Agu said he knew from the beginning that his school would eventually be shut down; indeed, NJIT held its last classes of the semester last Wednesday.
The next day, Thursday, he was required by his parents to begin "quarantining" at their Maplewood home. In the three days leading up to Thursday, though, he and his friends “were all chilling... still going out to eat” but without “dap ups,” slapping hands in greeting, “just with elbows and forearms” instead. Not quite true social distancing, but a step in a safer direction. At Springfield Ave.’s HLS, where Agu works, he learned the new extreme sanitation routines and was stunned. “There were so many things that they did that I just didn’t think about” to prevent the spread of germs.
Anthony said his generation is taking this seriously enough: washing hands, wearing gloves when touching public places, and social distancing have become routine in a short time. He doesn't see social distancing as quarantine: “I see it as going out less.” He said that when “we went to the high school field to work out, everyone went home after that. No one actually hangs out.”
He is balancing his need to be social with staying safe. “I wanna go out. I wanna see my friends and whatever but they know they have a social responsibility not to spread it around. That’s the vibe I get from everybody.”