This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
In the before times, Thanksgiving Eve was, perhaps, the busiest bar night of the year. This year, it could become a superspreader event that no one is thankful for.
You might know it by a different name — perhaps Drinksgiving or Blackout Wednesday — but the gist is the same: College students home for the holiday meet up with their hometown friends. It’s a night to flirt and reminisce, then stumble home to sleep in a childhood bed.
“You’re going to see your family on Thanksgiving Day, but the night before is reserved for your friends,” said Mike Pesarchick, 22, the editor in chief of The Griffin, the student newspaper of Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.
The problems here should be obvious. College students are already at high risk of spreading the virus to the people they love, a danger made even graver as they travel home while cases are spiking nationwide.
And bars are notorious coronavirus hot spots: A Washington Post analysis of cellphone data found that reopening bars is correlated with a doubling of cases. You can’t drink through a mask and alcohol lowers your inhibitions: Making out with a high-school ex may be more than just regrettable this year.
Some health officials are clearly worried. Pennsylvania will not allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol after 5 p.m. today. In Maryland, police departments have increased staffing to crack down on Covid-19 violations and keep drunken drivers in check. On Long Island, the Suffolk County executive is “particularly concerned” about tonight.
But many other states have allowed bars to stay open, even as cases rise.
Anna Boone, 20, is the culture editor at The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper of George Washington University in D.C. For Thanksgiving, she’s home in Tallahassee, Fla., where the bars that cater to Florida State students are popping. (Florida State has asked students who leave campus for Thanksgiving not to come back for the rest of the semester.)
“In Florida right now, we’re not seeing extensive regulations on bars,” she said. “They basically just have to throw some nuts on the table and make sure they say they have food.”
It’s also football season, so she’s watching tailgates from the safe distance of her phone screen. “There’s no masks,” she said. “I don’t see that going away in the next few days as people are coming home from different colleges.”
We don’t want to fall prey to the temptation of blaming all college students for the irresponsible behavior of a few. Many young people will choose not to endanger their family and neighbors over the holiday weekend.
Faith Andrews-O’Neal, 19, a first-year student at Columbia University says she told her friends in Kansas City, Mo.: “I’m not particularly interested in participating in a superspreader event, so I am going to opt out.”
So will Maggie Micklo, 22, a senior at Mount Holyoke College. The year 2020 would have been the first that all her friends from her hometown, a Chicago suburb, could drink legally. But instead of going to a bar, they’re staying connected over Zoom, where they’ll be playing games (with an adult beverage in hand) from the comfort of their respective bedrooms.
“There’s a sadness of staying home, but I’m trying to use it to get together with as many people as I can online and do what I can to make it a little warmer, a little more festive,” she said.
Those we’ve lost
Today, we remember two educators and a student who have died after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Iris Meda, a 70-year-old nurse in Texas, tested positive after she was exposed to an infected nursing student. Meda had come out of retirement to teach during the pandemic.
“She felt like if she could gain momentum by teaching some of those basics, we could contain any virus,” her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel, told The Washington Post. “She wanted to do something that would make a difference.”
Samara Lyric Rand, a 25-year-old high school teacher in Mississippi, had no health problems before she died.
This spring, Rand spoke to Bracey Harris of The Hechinger Report about how she helped her students make it through the semester. A dedicated educator, she started adapting online learning lessons, reaching out to students who weren’t logging on and worrying about how families would find ways to make graduation special.
“Even though some students say they don’t like school, some depend on school as a safe haven,” Rand said at the time. “Everyone misses it.”
Honestie Hodges died on Sunday at the age of 14 in her hometown, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Hodges made headlines in 2017, when she was 11, after the police handcuffed her while searching for an adult suspect. The police department later adopted the “Honestie Policy,” which called for using the least restrictive options when dealing with young people. Hodges was a member of the NAACP Youth Council.
“She could have been the vice president one day, or maybe the president,” her grandmother said. “The world was open to her.”
College students band together
“It’s providing kinship,” Tyesha Maddox, an assistant professor in the department of African and African-American studies at Fordham University, told The Times this summer. “It’s more than just charity or generosity. It’s building a cohesive neighborhood.”
On college campuses, it’s even more important this year. Many students have struggled to meet basic needs during the pandemic, especially those who depend on dorms for housing after their campuses closed.
Their peers, working without university involvement, have stepped up to help. One network at Vanderbilt University offers temporary housing, while at Northeastern University, organizers use donations to stock a free food pantry and distribute personal protective equipment.
“We’re trying to fulfill a lot of the needs that have been exacerbated or are there in a greater degree due to the pandemic,” said Neha Tallapragada, 19, a sophomore who helped start an aid network at Rice University.
In one common model, students send in requests for small amounts of money, and network organizers send them funds using payment apps like Venmo.