COVID-19: The virus that has shaken the nation

COVID-19: The virus that has shaken the nation

The typically packed University Avenue is desolate, a lone man seen wearing an N-95 respirator waiting for his take-out order from an empty restaurant. School campuses have been abandoned, whiteboards and desks gathering dust. The virus that was once only embodied by dystopian pictures of silent streets in Wuhan and videos of packed emergency rooms in Italy is now upon us. 

COVID-19 has swept across the globe, and the United States is the latest country to feel the full force of the deadly virus. As the number of infections continue to grow exponentially, the U.S. now leads the world with 366,153 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 6. 

A dry cough, fever and shortness of breath — these symptoms are prevalent in those infected with COVID-19 and can appear 2-14 days after one is exposed to the virus.

Amidst event cancelations, school closures, political angst, country lockdowns, travel restrictions and stock market drops, people around the globe are feeling the effects of COVID-19. See the interactive timeline below for a chronological breakdown of the virus’s local and international impact. 

[divider]THE COMMUNITY RESPONSE[/divider]


On March 16, all public schools in Santa Clara County began a minimum three-week closure to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, in accordance with orders by County Public Health Officials at noon on March 13. Superintendent Don Austin announced on April 1 that schools will not reopen this school year. 

“Most people knew that reopening this year was unlikely given the challenges facing our nation and a virus still spreading rapidly,” Austin said in an update posted on Schoology. “We empathize with students who were holding out hope for a return this year.”

In an update posted on March 25, Austin said grades for the spring semester would transition to a credit/no credit system.

“The decision included input from principals, instructional leads, District-level administration, consultation with university admissions officials, and Santa Clara County superintendents,” Austin said in the update. “Moving to credit/no credit grading will benefit our staff and students without negative consequences for students with collegiate aspirations.”

Numerous colleges have written that aspiring juniors will not be penalized for showing credit/no credit grades for this semester — the University of California system, among others, has also suspended its standardized testing admissions requirement.

School closures have had a widespread ripple effect, also causing the cancellation of long-awaited traditions including proms and graduations. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said the primary issue with keeping schools open while combating the virus is that they allow for rapid community spread.

“Children are at low risk or serious complications from the coronavirus,” Eshoo said during a telephone town hall on March 18. “But despite that low risk, children can spread the virus, and that’s why we see the school closures that have taken place in our area.”

Santa Clara County’s notice came as it reported its sixth death among 189 confirmed coronavirus cases in the county at that time. Confirmed cases of the virus have now reached over 1,000 in the county, with 38 deaths. Worldwide, 1,202,236 cases and 8,438 deaths have been confirmed as of April 4. 

Additionally, Palo Alto Unified District reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 at Fletcher Middle School on March 17.

An online survey of 189 Paly students through a Google Form distributed on social media a week before the Paly school closure showed that more than 60% of the respondents felt personally threatened by the virus, and 67% of families of students who responded had already taken action in response to its spread. 

County public health departments throughout the Bay Area announced on March 16 a “shelter-in-place” order for six counties, including Santa Clara County, from March 17 to at least April 7. Affected residents were instructed to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible. On April 1, authorities announced the order will now extend until at least May 3.

Currently, all nonessential stores are closed, with some restaurants still offering only take-out and delivery service. Grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, airports and medical facilities remain open. Residents are permitted to leave their homes for essentials, including grocery shopping, dog-walking, exercise and medical care, as long as they stay six feet apart from those who don’t live in their household.

As a result, companies with the capacity to operate remotely have transitioned to a work-from-home model, but businesses unable to do so are greatly affected by the county instructions.

According to Dr. Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County executive medical officer, the shelter-in-place order is intended to limit the number of COVID-19 cases at any given time in order to keep hospitals within capacity so that they can provide quality treatment to all patients.

“The major reason for the public health order was to try to take as much effort as we possibly can to flatten the curve, because what we’re trying really to do is protect the medical health system,” Smith said in a county tele-town hall meeting March 18. “We currently have somewhere in the region of 298 intensive care unit beds in Santa Clara County, but somewhere around 39 are filled with patients who have COVID-19.”

The fear is that as the virus spreads throughout the county, ICU beds will overflow and the county’s health system could get overwhelmed. However, only time will determine the severity of the outbreak, and Santa Clara County expects to reevaluate the shelter-in-place order after 30 days, according to Smith.

 “We’re at a place where we expect Santa Clara county to see a much larger increase in very ill patients over the next two weeks, and all of Bay Area counties are expected to follow about two weeks after that,” Smith said. “So lots of effort is being put into trying to find out what we can do to isolate and protect our most vulnerable population, which is those people over 50.”

With the closure of schools throughout the region, several have developed remote learning platforms to continue to educate students. Castilleja School, a girls private school in Palo Alto, was one of the first local schools to test out an online learning system on March 9.

“Our teachers pre-recorded videos from their houses that they put on Schoology for us to watch,” Castilleja freshman Daniella Henderson said. “Then we took notes and answered questions through Schoology. In-class learning is much more engaging but this way I can still do my schoolwork at home.”

On March 16, one week after the remote learning pilot, Castilleja closed its campus, implementing the online learning system two days later.

“Of course this remote learning is not going to be like real school, but we’re going to make the best of it,” Castilleja Principal Nancy Kauffman told The Campanile

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the unfamiliar learning system, Kauffman urged Castilleja students to retain a sense of community.

“Even though we are all in distant places, far away from each other in our homes, we still are together,” Kauffman said. “We belong together and as the Castilleja community we will stay united through these challenging times.”

Instead of comprehensive remote schooling, PAUSD has opted to implement Flexible Learning Options. Students can access these FLOs through Schoology, where teachers were instructed to create folders with optional coursework not to exceed three hours per course per week.

“I like completing FLOs because they keep me thinking about the interesting topics that we were covering in class,” junior Megan Wong said. “Even though they do not replicate the depth of learning we do in class, it is still helpful in keeping my mind active.”

However, some students worry that, without the comprehensive learning provided by traditional schooling, they will be unprepared for future classes. Junior Teg Singh said he expects that next year’s classes with prerequisites will spend more time reviewing material to compensate for FLOs.

“The replacement of regular classroom instruction by FLOs will likely impact next year’s classes because (student’s) foundational skills will not be as solid,” Singh said.

Paly’s FLO system differs from many other local high school distance learning platforms — the Menlo Park City School District made an immediate switch to required distance learning.

“It’s up to each school district to design what that remote learning package is, and how they put that together,” Eshoo told a Campanile reporter in a tele-town hall meeting. “From our end in Congress, we need to make sure that they have the platform so that they can actually engage in remote learning. (That platform) needs to be broadband that reaches everyone.”

After PAUSD spring break, which ends on April 13, teachers will transition from FLOs to Required Online Learning Experiences, or ROLEs. These assignments will be required and count for credit.

“The question is no longer (whether we are) living in a historical moment, but rather whether this will be a few paragraphs, a few pages or its own separate chapter in the textbooks your children will read,” history teacher Jack Bungarden said in an update posted to his students on March 22. “I am also reminded, as I type this, about the moments that occurred in my lifetime that are in the books now, how none of them were comfortable experiences, but all leant themselves to widespread considerations of how our society operated, as these moments put into sharp relief our collective strengths and weaknesses.”

[divider]THE GLOBAL RESPONSE[/divider]

On March 20, President Donald Trump announced that the Department of Education will not enforce any state-required standardized tests, such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, for the rest of this school year. Trump also set the interest rate on federally held student loans to 0% for the following 60 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“(Schools have) been through a lot,” Trump said during his March 20 COVID-19 press briefing. “They’ve been going back and forth, schools open, schools not open — we’re not going to be enforcing (standardized tests).”

The College Board also announced that it is streamlining a process for Advanced Placement tests to be administered online as 45-minute free-response exams. Additionally, the May SAT has been cancelled, and the April ACT has been postponed to June.

Other nations have also experienced significant disruptions to their education systems. Schools have been closed throughout Asia and Europe, and exams instrumental in the university application process such as the International English Language Testing System have been cancelled.

The United Kingdom has cancelled both A Levels and General Certificate of Secondary Education exams, which are equivalent to the College Board’s AP tests. Instead, those scores will be replaced with a predicted score for each student based on a practice test taken in January, instructor input and coursework. 

According to Bis Lockwood, an 11th-year student in London at Bromley High School, the testing changes were necessary but still disappointing.

“In this situation I do believe (the testing cancellations) are very much for the best, but we have been working toward them for upwards of five years, which is upsetting because all our work was pointless,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood added that although the exams are not critical to university admission, they are key in determining what subjects students will pursue in their next two years of school before university. 

Italy, a nation with more than 60 million inhabitants, went into full lockdown on March 9 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. There, confirmed cases have reached 124,632, and nearly 13% of those infected have died.

At this point, Italy’s lockdown is much more drastic than the “shelter-in-place” order on the Bay Area — only citizens with police-certified notes are allowed to leave their homes, even for essentials such as grocery shopping.

Although the crisis seems to have reached the U.S. just weeks ago, China has been affected by the coronavirus since its breakout in January. Within one month, on Jan. 23, China declared for a lockdown in Wuhan and three other cities. 

Schools closing, markets emptying and panic on the streets have been a familiar sight for almost three months for Chinese residents like Charles He, a sophomore who attends the International School of Beijing.

Since the virus’s outbreak in Wuhan, most public areas have closed in China, according to He. The government locked down transport in and out of Wuhan and surrounding cities in the Hubei province on Jan. 23, and megacities including Beijing and Shanghai were locked down just weeks later in mid-February. 

“The virus surfaced so suddenly,” He said. “Initially, my family wasn’t very affected by the virus and did not understand the severity of the situation. But as the virus worsened and more knowledge of the virus became available, we became very alert and cautious.”

He’s school announced its closure on Jan. 22, immediately transitioning to online learning. 

“The process of online learning differs between schools, but usually teachers will have assignments put up before 9 a.m. every morning, and we have 48 hours to respond to the tasks,” He said. “However, online learning lacks a certain element of engagement simply because you’re not in the same room as the teacher and other students.”

Nevertheless, He said online learning and the closure of school has improved his time management.

“There is no strict timetable for me to follow, so I can do things at my own pace,” He said.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads exponentially, hospitals and residents around the globe are in dire need of surgical masks and respirators. China, which manufactures half of the world’s masks, is facing a huge world demand for masks while combating the widespread virus itself. Additionally, China is also the leading producer of other protective medical gear.

According to Li Xingqian in an announcement, the director of international trades at China’s commerce ministry, China is willing to bolster international cooperation in terms of medical gear and masks’ export. 

The U.S., according to Eshoo, is especially in need of medical equipment such as face masks, ventilators and test kits.

“We had a democratic caucus conference call for two and a half hours this morning, participating about 220 member of Congress,” Eshoo said. “Every single member reported about the shortage of protective equipment that is needed for our healthcare workers.”

[divider]THE FACTS[/divider]

According to Jessica Ridgway, an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Infectious Diseases department at the University of Chicago, COVID-19 spreads when infected respiratory droplets enter the eyes, nose or mouth.

“The other main way (to be infected) is through contact with surfaces that (infected) droplets have touched,” Ridgway told The Campanile on March 12. “If someone with the coronavirus coughs or sneezes into their hand and then they touch a table or doorknob, and then several hours later someone else touches that doorknob and then touches their eye or their face, they can become infected.”

Ridgway said infected droplets stay active for different amounts of time depending on what kind of surface they fall on.

“If it’s a hard surface, (the virus will) stick around longer than if it’s a piece of cloth or something, but it can range from anywhere around a few hours up to around nine days, potentially,” Ridgway said. “It also depends on a lot of other things, like how moist the environment is.”

According to Ridgway, typical household cleansers such as Clorox wipes and ammonium-based cleansers are sufficient to disinfect surfaces. Alcohol-based sanitizers with an alcohol concentration greater than 60% can also kill the virus. 

The mortality rate of COVID-19 among people under 40 with no preexisting health conditions is 0.2%, according to Worldometer’s Feb. 29 report. However, for those over 80, the mortality rate is nearly 15%.

“The mortality rate is pretty low for children and adolescents, and for them it might not be anything worse than getting the flu,” Ridgway said. “But you need to (practice social distancing) for the common good — if you think about your grandparents or friends who have medical illnesses, for those folks, the mortality rate is a lot higher. And so for the good of your community, it’s important to take those (precautions).”

Former Gunn High School AP Biology teacher and now biologist Katherine Moser said that the coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than a regular flu.

“Normally, the flu would be lethal for about 0.1% of people that are infected,” Moser said “This one is lethal for about 1% of people that are infected. Now in the U.S., our government has been very slow in getting test kits. So we’re in the middle of regular flu season, and we’ve got this new virus that is more of a problem. And nobody gets tested, so we don’t know if somebody has the regular flu or if they have COVID-19.”

According to Moser, differentiating between a regular flu and the coronavirus can be challenging, since many symptoms overlap between the two viruses — the only way to be certain is by making test kits widely available.

“We haven’t been testing people,” Moser said. “We don’t know how many cases there are. So anybody that has flu symptoms might have the coronavirus. We don’t know because we are not able to.”

According to Eshoo, the lack of test kits was caused by the initial denial of the severity of COVID-19 by the Trump administration.

“To be blunt, the administration blew it,” Eshoo said in the tele-town hall. “The CDC was late in putting out tests, and they were faulty and needed to be recalled. It then took a couple of weeks for the administration to call out to the private sector to produce their own tests.”

However, once the private sector began working on the development and production of tests, their availability increased considerably. Stanford began offering new drive-thru tests, which can test up to 630 people per day according to The Stanford Daily.

Vaccines for COVID-19 are currently being developed by both the National Institutes of Health and private companies, and many of these potential cures are promising, according to Eshoo. Existing drugs such as Chloroquine, an antimalarial drug, are being studied around the world, including at Stanford, with the intention of providing a cure to both mild and severe cases of COVID-19. Stanford and the NIH are among organizations that have begun human trials for drugs, and Eshoo said she is committed to making sure these are available to the general public as soon as possible.

“As a chair of the health subcommittee in the House of Representatives, I’ve worked hard and fast with the FDA to waive some of the bureaucratic requirements relative to some of these drugs,” Eshoo said. “If I were critically ill, I would want (researchers to) use it on me and see if it helps.”

Moser said that given time, the coronavirus will eventually subside as the warmer season begins. 

“I think it’s just going to be part of the normal viruses that we have now,” Moser said. “We still have SARS. We still have swine flu every now and then. So once a virus leaves its normal host and gets into humans, it’s going to spread, and with air travel and products being transferred around the world, everything is going to spread.”

Despite the risk and unpredictability of the virus, however, Moser said she doesn’t feel personally threatened.

“I take precautions normally, and I’m not in a high risk group,” Moser said. “But when I take a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the first thing I do when I get off the train is I wash my hands. If anybody is obviously sick, I move away from them. I don’t hang out with people that are coughing and sneezing.”

According to Ridgway, the most important thing to do is to stay home. 

“If you’re really sick, seek medical care,” Ridgway said. “But if you have a fever and a cough don’t go out. Don’t be around your friends, isolate yourself at home and practice social distancing as much as you can.” 

[divider]THE FIGURES[/divider]

Restaurants around the nation are empty, shelves of lifestyle essentials and food have been sold out and the stock market is plummeting in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the first COVID-19 case landed in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Jan. 15, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a stock market index that measures the stock performance of 30 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the U.S., has dropped 8,167 points, or 28%, as of April 4. 

On March 12, both the Dow and the S&P 500, a major stock index that indicates the performance of 500 large companies, experienced their worst one-day drop since the 1987 stock market drop dubbed “Black Monday.” Only four days later, the Nasdaq, one of the largest stock exchanges and where many Silicon Valley companies are listed, had dropped about 12%. 

In the same week, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to nearly zero percent and announced that it would buy $700 billion in government and mortgage-related bonds in an effort to protect and jolt the economy in light of the market’s sharp decline.

With the downfall of the market and economy, many are experiencing losses in their investment portfolios. Few, like Junior Coby Shpilberg, were able to cut losses early on. Shpilberg said he manages a stock portfolio under his parents’ name.

“I sold everything (stock shares) at the start of the downturn,” Sphilberg said. “I thought the market was not going to keep up its near-constant growth and record highs even before the virus started.”

Prior to selling, Sphilberg said he lost about 7% of his portfolio. 

“I was watching the presidential race because I thought that could be the trigger,” Sphilberg said. “But once the virus emerged and stocks started to drop, I realized that the potential losses could be huge and the gain, if any, would be minimal. ”

Though Sphilberg said he felt impulsive while confirming the sell order, in retrospect, he is glad he made that decision.

On March 27, Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The recovery plan, the largest by scale and price in U.S. history, includes payments to citizens, unemployment insurance, loans and grants to businesses and health-care funding.

Furthermore, small businesses are eligible for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration, and employees of businesses that are temporarily closed are eligible for unemployment insurance, which covers 67% of their income, according to Congresswoman Jackie Speier. However, the loans take up to five weeks to process, making them inconvenient for many small business owners.

“So for many people, (the loans are) not the answer,” Speier said in a tele-town hall meeting. “I’m going to be working with the county in hopes that they will create something similar to what San Francisco has done. They actually have a specific program that benefits small employers, and it’s a revolving loan fund from which owners can access up to $10,000 for employer salary and rent.”

Eshoo acknowledged the struggles that many will face in the coming weeks, and said the government is working hard to keep people safe and happy.

“I know how difficult all of this is for everyone,” Eshoo said. “Our lives are changing from hour to hour but the way we’re going to come through this is by standing together.”

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