A brief survey of area high schoolers shows their thoughts regarding the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic run the gamut, just like the general population.
Some feel the shutdowns have been too severe, according to members of Sen. Chapin Rose’s Youth Advisory Panel. One blamed it on media-fed fear.
On the other end, some high schoolers were more forgiving with the current precautions that have been put in place, which has included the closing of school buildings and shuttering of non-essential businesses.
Ella Kellerhals of Villa Grove High School said her mother is an attorney who works with the elderly, and as an essential employee is working every day with an at-risk population.
“She’s gone to work every day of this lockdown, and she comes home more scared for her health every day,” said Kellerhals.
“Based on how scared my mom and her employees are, and the people that come in without PPE (personal protective equipment), I think we should keep it this way, at least until it gets a little better. I don’t think it will be helpful (to reopen) sooner, even if other states are doing it,” she added.
About 30 students were part of the hour-long Zoom call on May 13 with the state senator, one in which Rose called for less-lengthy periods between Governor JB Pritzker’s phases of his Restore Illinois plan.
Currently the plan calls for 28 days between phases, longer than any state in the nation, said Rose.
Meanwhile, he said some businesses like hair stylist and barbers could reopen as soon as May 29, but have no guidance on how to do that safely.
“They have not been given any guidance,” Rose said, noting he had met online with 50 stylists and barbers the previous day.
“We want to see him give them the ability to do things as safely as they can,” he added.
Some area municipalities have said they will not enforce the state’s executive order should businesses and/or churches re-open. Others are going to court to battle the governor’s orders.
“If they don’t get information, they’re going underground,” a situation he felt could be more dangerous than a more organized opening.
He also pointed to the fact vaccinations have decreased, partly due to a fear of going to a doctor’s office.
“Do measles come back?” mused Rose (R-Mahomet), who earlier had said the state has also lost an estimated $2.8 billion in income due to business and other shutdowns.
“But this isn’t money versus lives. Soon it will be lives versus lives,” he said.
Austin Pittman of Tuscola High School thinks “all jobs are essential,” and “wants to go back to work.”
He also expressed his feeling that some of the danger had been overblown.
“The media has played a part in this with fear-mongering,” he said. ”It makes people not want to go to hospitals and health care facilities because they don’t want to go out at all, even if they should be.”
But Kent Markley, a junior at Mahomet-Seymour High School, is concerned about people ignoring advice on social distancing, along with state orders to not have gatherings of more than 10 people in order to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19.
“There are kids who are in the streets in large groups and going on about like this thing isn’t even happening,” said Markley, who believes “many, many (Champaign County’s 300-plus) cases are due to people not properly quarantining, not using any PPE.”
He noted that he was invited to a birthday party that had at least 10 people from different households in one place.
“Things like that are very frustrating,” he said.
Others were concerned about whether to enroll in college, especially if in-person classes do not resume in the fall.
“I may not go to college in the fall because of online learning. I just don’t know if that’s how it’s always going to be from now on, or if it’s even worth putting my money into college if it’s online learning,” said Macy Alexander of Clinton High School.
Rose said the future of in-person learning on college campuses is still up in the air at this point.
“You can’t say for sure that the University of Illinois opens in August. You can’t say for certain Eastern Illinois University opens in August. You can’t say ISU opens for August,” said Rose. “And of course, you can’t wait until August to make that decision. That’s why 28 days to me (between reopening phases) is crazy...it’s completely arbitrary.”
Rose did promise that higher education officials are working hard to make plans for the fall semester.
“You do have to worry about the employees at those institutions, that you do it as safely as possible to keep them from getting it,” said the area legislator.
Other thoughts from the high schoolers on the Zoom session? Frustration over the ever-changing graduation plans, partly due to the fluid nature of advice coming from the state. Another was concerned over large protests, feeling they could spread the virus.
Charlotte Watson of Tri-Valley defended the state’s stance to this point.
“I think that it is unfortunate to denounce JB Pritzker to this extent. No one has done this before. Every decision will have consequences, but he has saved lives,” she said.
The Illinois General Assembly will meet in a three-day mini-session later this week in Springfield, it’s first in-person sessions in about two months. Social distancing will be observed, and face coverings are mandatory.