COVID-19 takes its toll on teens

By Branson Bajoua


Jogging down a stretch of side­walk, edged with vibrant sprouts of grass as a breath of air gently passes by. Soaking in the summer sun float­ing just above the horizon before set­tling a match of volleyball. Or per­haps you’re eyeing an empty row of seats in a packed theater, popcorn in one hand with a slushy resting in the other, as you signal to your friends. Admittedly, we have all imagined ourselves in any one of these sce­narios.

Being in quarantine for over a year, who could blame us?

It’s true, we’ve all made sacrifices, and many might have wondered how teenagers have fared during this cha­otic time. For a high schooler like myself, quarantine has definitely been a rocky experience. Back in March of 2020 when it all began, receiv­ing news of what was then called an “extended spring break” was nothing short of exciting. At least at first. It was the middle of the second semes­ter, and we were more than ready to have a pause from the constant stream of assignments and tests.

The pandemic makes it harder for patients recovering from drug/alcohol issues. People seeking help are now forced to deal with their issues alone or online. COVID-19 could have in­creased substance misuse since young people were not physically attending school and not needed for jobs and in­ternships. Along with several organi­zations across the region, East County Youth Coalition meetings were can­celled early on and have been held virtually for a while now. Being away from school, extracurricular activities and friends meant students turned to alternative outlets. Whether working productively or drinking while under­age, this is a time when people are de­veloping strong habits that can carry on throughout their life.

However, for my peers and me, ten­sions revolving around school began with the arrival of national exams. Studying and reviewing for what was essentially a set of college entrance exams, only with our teachers’ emails as a source of direct help, was frankly a frightening experience. Now an en­tire year later, we’re back in the same position, but instead of only having a small portion of the school year con­sumed by digital learning, the entire year has been consumed.

Although, truthfully, having online and open-note assignments has been rather calming, there are serious ques­tions that have been raised about our preparedness for college, since inevi­tably we will be back in the classroom regardless of our comfort in the on­line setting. Getting ready to graduate this upcoming school year, readapting to the pace of a classroom environ­ment will definitely pose a challenge for many of us, especially because my classmates and I haven’t been in an actual classroom since sophomore year.

Unfortunately, in-classroom learn­ing is not the only thing that has been squeezed by the grips of quarantine. The onset of the lockdowns abrupt­ly stopped the spring season of last year’s high school sports, even post­poning the fall and winter seasons. As a third-year track and field runner and personally knowing many others also involved in sports, the cancellation of competitions really stung. Hard.

In any case, it is no secret that quar­antine has flung obstacles at every corner of our society, and, of course, those who have contracted the virus itself have experienced the

worst of it. Luckily, there is real hope that our world is returning to some form of

normalcy. As vaccines have been rolling out over the past few months, COVID transmissions have been dropping steadily according to the CDC. This is good news, amazing news in fact, but we must be careful in how we digest this information.

As soon as we treat these numbers as an excuse to stop wearing masks and social distancing, that’s when we run into problems. If we want to see meaningful change in the transmis­sions, we need to keep our momen­tum, at least until more of the country becomes vaccinated. After all, only about a third of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated as of mid-April.

For the past year, we’ve all been told to be passive in our precautions against the virus: stay indoors and only leave when necessary. But if we really want to hasten our return to normalcy and the lifting of social dis­tancing guidelines, we need to take on a more active approach as well. We need every family to sit down and dis­cuss a plan. Whether it be researching which vaccine to take and their side effects, scheduling an appointment to get the shots, or even volunteer­ing at a vaccination site, every fam­ily should have some sort of plan of attack against this virus. I’m faithful that if we all continue working to­gether and if we all hold in for just a little longer, this virus will be nothing but a memory.

Branson Bajoua is a junior at Val­halla High School in Rancho San Diego and a member of the East County Youth Coalition, a group of students advocating for healthy, safe and thriving neighborhoods.


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