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COVID-19 surge impacting students in a variety of ways

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 8:50 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - As Wisconsin sees a surge in COVID-19 cases, people in all corners are beginning to be impacted by the pandemic if they have not been already, that includes students.

The project

NewsChannel 7 took on a special project, gathering students from all over central Wisconsin from various grades to hear what their thoughts and experiences were and are as school begins and continues over the next year. Aug. 31, 2020 was the first day of coverage looking at what students' experiences were over the previous five months, what they are thinking about ahead of the start of school, and what they are doing to get through all of the changes. The second round aired Sept. 24, 2020, following the same group of students (plus one who could not make the first interview). The third aired Oct. 22, about two to three months into the school year depending on the school.

Students started the school year at a variety of times, as early as Sept. 1 and as late as Sept. 14, and from a variety of approaches, with some fully in-person, some fully online, and others in some mix of that.

The students who participated are:

  • Charleze Valliere, a senior at Merrill High School
  • Lexie Durkee, a senior at Stevens Point Area High School
  • Oliver Nazari-Witt, a junior at D.C. Everest Senior High School
  • Estella Christiensen, a junior at Wausau West High School
  • Julia Engebretson, a sophomore at Wausau West High School
  • Cadence Ryman, a freshman at Merrill High School
  • Connor Skarsten, an 8th-grade student at P.J. Jacobs Junior High
  • Kayla Skarsten, a 6th-grade student at Washington Elementary School in Stevens Point

Quarantine

Since the beginning of the school year, one student in the panel has tested positive for COVID-19 and has recovered. Half of the students have had to quarantine and the other half who have not still are feeling an impact.

Cadence Ryman said someone on her dance team tested positive for COVID-19 and she had to quarantine for two weeks. Her mom is a coach for the team, so she knew that information ahead of some of her teammates, but as they were getting called into the school’s office one by one, she said “it was still like, darn.” While they quarantined, she said they were still able to keep practicing over Zoom.

Connor Skarsten has had to quarantine and expects to possibly quarantine again as he is very involved in sports and two of his teams have had members test positive for COVID-19.

“We’ve had a couple of sports teams at West have to quarantine,” Estella Christiensen. “I think football is quarantining right now and then tennis had to a little bit earlier, but volleyball hasn’t.”

“I was pretty upset about just having to miss games for the soccer team,” Oliver Nazari-Witt expressed. He said his team’s season has been condensed, so missing two weeks is like missing half of the season.

Kayla Skarsten has also had to quarantine saying the process made her “really nervous that if I (she) did have it.” She also had to miss her last softball tournament.

Most students were not too concerned about the possibility of testing positive for their own health purposes, but as Nazari-Witt put it, “I was worried about making my family sick.”

Most said their education was not to the same level as if they were in school typically, but they got by.

“I was able to keep up and basically just fit right in when I came back, but being isolated for so long it was just really boring,” Nazari-Witt said, a sentiment that all quarantined students shared.

They also were disappointed to have to be pulled from school and their other activities.

“And getting the test was obviously not fun,” Ryman added.

Charleze Valliere said she has not had to quarantine but has noticed class sizes fluctuate on a two-week basis often at Merrill High School.

“I’ve also noticed some teachers teaching from home, so I assume they’re having to quarantine,” Julia Engebretson noted. “That doesn’t affect, except for math class, you know like, teaching on a smartboard is harder because they have to draw with, like, their mouse pad and it’s super sloppy.”

“I’ve had a situation where I’ve had to evacuate a class because someone went home sick,” Lexie Durkee said. She explained that her class would be moved to their common area for that period so the classroom could be disinfected.

Durkee added while she has not personally had to quarantine, she has had to be careful at home while her mom quarantined to prepare for surgery.

“It was weird, I kind of had to stay away from my mom a little bit in the house,” she explained. “I couldn’t come home and give her a hug.”

Impact of surge

When asked about if the surge in COVID-19 cases in north-central Wisconsin has impacted their lives in any other way, they all said yes.

“With the numbers going up the chance that we contract the virus also goes up,” Nazari-Witt stated. “The chance that I miss out on more sports or school goes up.”

“We can’t see my grandparents any more because the cases just keep going up and up,” Kayla Skarsten said.

“It is concerning to a point, but I don’t think we should overreact,” Christiensen said.

“I wasn’t really concerned about getting it at this point, I’m more concerned about how our community as Wisconsin and Wausau is taking the seriousness of it,” Engebretson said. “I think people don’t think that it exists anymore and that angers me.”

“I feel like people here just, in general, aren’t caring as much as they should, masks aren’t being worn,” Ryman added.

“I know some people who are immunocompromised and the chances for them to contract the virus and then get sick are also higher,” said Nazari-Witt. “Now it’s almost to the point where everybody knows somebody who is positive or was positive. So you can really see how it isn’t just a number, it really impacts the community and the people around you now.”

School experiences

Students also shared what school and their educational experience has been like now that they have had more time to get used to this new normal. They overall said not much has changed since the last time NewsChannel 7 checked in, but there are some new observations. See some of their responses below.

They also said they have been strategic with their friend groups, keeping their “bubbles” small and largely interacting with their teammates if they are part of a sports team. They noted it still “sucks” not seeing their fellow classmates that they may not be close friends with but still care about.

Some, like Durkee, said they are trying to find ways to interact with the community to help people get through this time in a way that is still safe.

Holiday plans

With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the winter holidays on the horizon, NewsChannel 7 also asked what their thoughts and plans are at this point. The plans are mixed, with some students saying parts of their family are not getting together for certain holidays, and others are not making many changes at all.

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