A year in review: Adjusting to a new sense of normalcy

The year 2020 threw curve balls in every direction, including up the mountain to Flagstaff. The truth is that many changes were made in 2020 surrounding the pandemic that has gripped the nation. Some of the significant changes include the education system, mask-wearing and isolation. 

 

COVID-19 

COVID-19 overtook the world and caused many to lose their jobs, reformed how education is administered and caused safety protocols and isolation to be the new normal. Social interactions have been kept limited, sporting events were put on hold, restaurants and bars closed and shopping online has increased.

There has been a new definition of normality throughout the United States where mental health is a considerable concern with most schools and jobs being conducted at home. Second-year master’s program student Patrice Timmons said that she had a sense of loneliness where everyone would be apprehensive, especially with all of the social opportunities closing down around them.  

 “Now I just feel like it’s normal to spend more time outside or at home and not to visit that many different restaurants or the museum or anything like that,” Timmons said.

 COVID-19 was the bulk of 2020 and safety has become a concern for most. Sophomore Adrian Medina said there is nothing that anyone can do about it and all that people can do is to see fewer people and follow the rules.

 Medina said hanging out in public with a group of friends was something he took for granted, but with COVID-19, he has not had those opportunities. He said he misses the freedom to do so without the impending thought of getting sick when stepping outside his door.

Junior Eliza Hagen said because of how fast news can spread nowadays, it made the pandemic even more overwhelming. 

 “People have been jumping to conclusions about things,” Hagen said. “That also contributes to the overall feeling of being overwhelmed, overall negativity of everything because everyone was just so quick to jump to conclusions. But fortunately, I think, in the end, things did work out. I am optimistic about the future of COVID-19 and how it’s been handled.”

 During 2020 people developed their own sense of normality in the changes that the U.S. has been living through. Each person’s experience may differ from others and it can be more challenging for others to stay motivated. 

 “My new sense of normality is being pretty socially distant,” Hagen said. “I’ve been pretty comfortable with that because I am an introvert and I am good at staying motivated and working independently.”

 

Education

Education was hit hard in 2020. First, schools went online or closed starting in March 2020, then during the summer, plans were worked out to conduct schools remotely through various technologies like Zoom and Google Meet. All these changes limited social interaction.

According to the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Unified School District closed schools until April 3, 2020. This is an example of measures taken in order to risk the spread of the virus, but it meant that Flagstaff’s elementary, middle and high schools were completely remote for a majority of the school year. 

 Timmons said her main focus is to get as much done in this environment when it comes to her classes. She also said the changes have helped her appreciate whatever social interactions she does have, including talking to classmates on Zoom or even talking to her co-workers and how it means more to her now than it did before COVID-19. Timmons is a teaching assistant in her master’s program for three sections of microbiology lab and said COVID-19 has changed how she teaches. 

“I feel like it made teaching a lot less fun, honestly, because before COVID-19, we would always be cracking jokes and just talking about random things,” Timmons said. “It was more of a social environment, but since there’s a shorter amount of time and trying to, you know, stay six feet apart from each other, it’s kind of less socializing.”

 Associate professor of psychological sciences Chad Woodruff said he is missing the social aspect when it comes to teaching his classes and it is impacting his moods. He said he assumes the same for his students as well.

 However, Woodruff said he found himself more focused when he is online, but he fears that is because students are not asking as many questions as they used to when they had in-person classes. He also said he is not sure that is what is best for the students.

 “I think online education is great,” Woodruff said. “I would rather not see it become the dominant model. But COVID-19 may be pushing it in that way. So, I can see some give and take, some positives and some negatives.”

 There have also been some staffing changes regarding professors being laid off during 2020 due to funding being cut.  

 “I would say my only problem about the current education was because of COVID-19 there is a funding cut for teachers, so there are fewer teachers in the university,” Medina said. “That was probably something that didn’t really need to happen because now I feel that I have suffered from this.”

 Medina said some of his lower-level classes are now being taught by professors who usually teach the higher levels. He said it can make it harder to understand them sometimes as if there is a learning curve.

 There has also been a surge in technology use in the classroom because of increased virtual communication. However, doing homework online can be difficult for some who are not as familiar with technology.

 “There was definitely an adjustment for both students and professors getting used to how to switch to an online format, how to teach best, do assignments through an online format and how to administer exams as well because the way we’re so used to doing things traditionally just doesn’t work anymore,” Hagen said. 

 Hagen also said she thinks the new virtual environment will not harm their education in the long run because students will have access to the internet. Many will be able to look up questions they need, as well as how technology will be around for a while so in a way it can be beneficial.

 “I think people are starting to realize how many different ways we can learn and use technology for education,” Hagen said. “I think it’s definitely changed and I hope that it’s for the better.”

 

Masks

A controversial topic throughout 2020 has been mandating the use of face masks. An article on The Indian Express gives a look on the anti-mask rallies through 2020 which were attended by people refusing to use face masks and groups who believe having the government tell its citizens to wear a face mask is an infringement upon their rights.

Woodruff said it is technically an infringement on rights, but that it is the kind of minimal infringement used for safety and how everyone should be happy to deal with it during a pandemic.

Woodruff supports the right to protest, but he said even if the protests are about mask-wearing, there should be no case where these gatherings endanger other people.

During the start of 2020, mask-wearing was still relatively new and could have been uncomfortable for some. Woodruff said the first few times he put a mask on, he kept looking around to make sure that others were wearing masks as well because otherwise he thought he would look silly. 

Timmons  said he thinks it is a waste of energy to get fired up over not wearing a mask. People would be better off addressing tangible problems like social inequalities or climate change, he said. He also said wearing a mask effectively mitigates the spread of COVID-19 and that it is not a hard thing to do, especially during a pandemic.

“It does kind of seem weird at this point to go to the store or somewhere and not have a mask on, like they’re just normal to see everyone was covering half of their face at this point,” Timmons said. “It’s all for the greater good of our country to wear a mask or just to think about helping each other and helping our country by wearing a mask instead of debating about it.” 

 Hagen said ultimately wearing a mask is not just for the wearer’s protection but also for others’ protection.

 “I think that wearing masks is something we should keep in the long run,” Hagen said. “If you’re feeling sick or something, it would be a good idea to wear a mask.”

 

Isolation

The U.S. has had to face isolation and social distancing when exposed to COVID-19. Isolation can take a toll on the human mind and body but was a part of the pandemic.

“I would say it’s been necessary,” Woodruff said. “I think we’ll slowly come out of that. But it looks like we still got a few more months, at least, to start coming completely out of isolation. That’s assuming that new variants of the virus don’t spread uncontrollably. I’d say it’s been useful, but also difficult.”

Woodruff also said if the general person kept staying home for hopefully just a little longer the U.S. could have this pandemic beat.  

At the same point, this pandemic brought the need to be isolated. Medina said that COVID-19 has split the nation and created a gap within the U.S. He said it showed how divided the nation is and that the U.S. needs to work on that in the future.

Through a pandemic that has shaken the world, COVID-19 took over 2020 and continues to affect 2021. The new truths of the nation have led to new education systems, face coverings and isolation. The normal many people once knew has changed forever.