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.

COVID-19 takes its toll on teens