GDS Students Struggle with Health, New Emotions and Unforeseen Circumstances Amid the Pandemic

Imagine a world in which a mysterious, new virus appeared out of thin air and attacked a single Chinese mega-city before proceeding to cause a deadly pandemic that would grow big enough to alter the course of world history. Before 2020, this was an amusing hypothetical. Now, countless adults, teenagers and children across the globe are living in that dystopia, and GDS students are no exception. 

When GDS closed on March 13, there were 42 coronavirus cases in D.C, Maryland, and Virginia. Since then, this number has skyrocketed to 72,529.

I interviewed several kids a few weeks into GDS’ closure when the number of positive cases ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 ,To many of those interviewed for this article, those numbers were startling. 

Sophomore Max Grosman said, “I feel like there is no way corona can be spreading so fast. It’s almost like we’re in a horror movie. I’m terrified.” 

Senior CK Zaki, however, felt like she had become desensitized to the climbing numbers. “I’m not sure if I can be shocked anymore,” she said. “We’ve been desensitized to numbers, numb to the idea of growth. Hearing the number can’t be more painful than the personal experiences of people with the virus.”

When it comes to personal experiences with the coronavirus, few members of the community have as many as freshman William Pressler, who was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Pressler contracted COVID-19 from his sister, who had been travelling in Europe. He began showing symptoms a week later. For the first few weeks, he felt normal as the symptoms lessened. However, a couple days into GDS’ closure, Pressler suddenly took a turn for the worse and his parents  decided to get him tested. 

“Towards the end of March, I got a false negative, but then a nurse came and told me around 25 percent of coronavirus tests give false negatives, which is insane. That’s when I learned I had it. Right now, I’m far worse than ever before,” Pressler said. “Saying a single sentence puts me out of breath completely, walking up the stairs is an exercise and my chest hurts like crap nonstop. I was one of the people sharing memes around, but now I see this seriously isn’t funny.”

Jokes about the coronavirus were as inevitable as the virus’ exponential spread, as teens scrambled to manage their uncertainty by creating and disseminating funny reaction images. 

However, sophomore Harrison West felt these memes were detrimental to their audience’s understanding of the gravity of the situation.

 “To be honest, I feel like a big reason why I didn’t initially comprehend the severity of the situation was because of the memes and jokes,” West said. “They can be a good coping mechanism, but in this case, I feel like they encouraged us to underestimate the effects of this virus.”

This sentiment was shared by freshman Lila Boyle. 

“Humor is a coping mechanism, and it was only kind of funny before COVID-19 began seriously affecting our community,” Boyle said. “Five or six feet apart isn’t a joke. Corona isn’t a joke. This is life or death.”

Many members of our community who don’t have COVID-19 are also facing increased hardship due to the pandemic. Because the virus originated in China, there has been an increase in anti-Asian racism. 

Senior Glace Qiao felt the insidious rise in racism affected her daily life in subtle ways. 

“I haven’t experienced racism in a way where I’ve physically been in danger, but before quarantine people would avoid me in very noticeable ways,” Qiao, who was born in China, said. “On the metro, some people would start to sit down next to me and then look at me and immediately get up. Even online, it’s hard to avoid the jokes about eating bats as well. ” 

COVID-19 first reached the GDS community on March 9, when Head of School Russell Shaw confirmed to the GDS community that lower and middle school music teacher John Barnes’ partner had tested positive for COVID-19. On  March 13, GDS entered its official closure which will continue through the end of this school year—and potentially beyond.

Some GDS students, such as junior Aidan Banarjee, find themselves worried about friends they can no longer see and the extracurriculars they’re missing.

“Honestly, I think I’ve been okay, but I’m constantly worried about my friends’ emotional health,” Banarjee said. “I’m no longer climbing, so I’m very sad and miss it dearly.”

Another consequence of COVID-19’s ability to spread through human contact is that the D.C.Maryland, and Virginia governments have all ordered their respective residents to stay at home.

Freshman Katie Young is enjoying her time at home. “My family and I are all pretty close anyway, so it’s not that bad,” she said.

 Freshman Victoria Levi felt that she was already quickly getting stir crazy.

“My mom is literally psycho now, terrified we’ll get the virus. I can’t even see my boyfriend, or any of my friends, and I really miss them at this point,” she said. “I can’t go anywhere except my backyard, so things are rough right now.”

As a collective, most interviewed students expressed the feeling that they initially thought the virus would not reach their community. They were deeply concerned and dismayed at the rapidity with which it did. However, as teenagers struggle to make sense of  all the tumult, adults at GDS have continued to nurture, support and help students, as they always have. Faculty members have flooded GDS students’ email inboxes with messages of support and check-ins. Librarian Rhona Campbell has launched a new forum for GDS book readers (Talking About Books), and Zoom group chats, Kahoot games and skribble.io challenges are abundant.

Many GDS students’ underestimation of a virus that would end up changing their ways of life has also now created a clear split in the way they view their past selves. 

One sophomore, who chose to remain anonymous, expressed a feeling of intense guilt. 

“I guess I should have begun to take it seriously after the grade meeting,” the sophomore said.  “My friends and I hoped and prayed that school would close, but that’s because we incorrectly figured it wouldn’t. I feel like the human aspect of plague should have clicked, but it didn’t until corona hit my immediate family and friends. Does that make me a bad person?” 

Jacqueline Elna Metzger ’23

Zaira Chowdhury ’23 contributed reporting.