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Speaking Out: What have we learned from a year of COVID?

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • March 10, 2021

The landmark one-year anniversary dates for COVID-19 in Canada are Jan. 25 and March 8 — the former  being the day we recorded our first official pandemic case, and the latter being the first death.

The pandemic hammer dropped on society days after the first fatality as students transferred to an online learning environment, adults began working remotely and so many began living with a heightened awareness of mortality. It’s a lockdown that has carried on, through varying degrees, for a full year.

Reflecting on this unusual year, we’ve seen a multitude of life-altering events — COVID testing, mandatory mask mandates, increased vaccine funding and the finally the creation of several vaccines — but the pandemic has also exposed several flaws in our social institutions and mainstream discourse.

Consider students, including those with specialized education plans, having to engage in self-study for over three months to close out the 2019-20 school year, which continued periodically into the new school year. They were called to meet the same standards as in regular school terms with less time, fewer lessons and fewer resources. All the while, teachers tried to meet curriculum requirements and engage students in an unprecedented way.

While teachers have done their best to foster a social atmosphere over Zoom calls, being cut off from extracurricular clubs, school sports, field trips, dances and graduation celebrations has taken a tremendous toll on students.

And a simple Google search reveals troves of news stories and research documenting how students’ development is being harmed. It came to the point that even the short time students spent together at lunch time and between classes is time that was cherished. 

It is also difficult as Catholics, called to love our neighbours by Christ, bearing witness to anti-mask individuals putting essential workers at risk by refusing to wear a mask while coming into close contact with others. We’ve seen health-care workers pushed to the brink, yet social media continues to blow up with conspiracy theories, videos and posts claiming the virus isn’t real.

Government leadership has also been flawed. We’ve seen politicians openly disobeying restrictions they helped pass, all while more and more Canadians are falling ill.

And we’ve witnessed individuals continuing to act as if nothing had changed and contributing to super spreader events that have infected hundreds outside of these events.

While the slow but sure distribution of the vaccine gives us constant, though far-off hope, this past year has completely changed the way we should view the world.

As Canadians, we value acceptance of our differences, but only during a time of complete upheaval did we start to discuss racial biases and systemic barriers in the mainstream media, and the systemic biases that make the difference between life and death for disenfranchised residents.

If anything, this one-year anniversary should mark the necessity for monumental change in the systems and values this country represents.

As we head into year two of living with COVID, we should take what we’ve learned from the past year and aim to do better, and to be better, so 2021 can serve as a reminder of the reparation of faults, and the final year of COVID, not just the second one.

(Henricus, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Cawthra Park Secondary in Mississauga, Ont.)

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