No one escaped the impact of virus

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The lives of Delta College faculty, staff and students, as well as people across the globe, changed drastically on March 11, 2020.

It was on this day when the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Within a few days, the world came to a standstill.

On March 13, 2020, President Donald J. Trump declared a national emergency in the United States.

At the state level, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health and well-being of California residents.

The order was “issued to protect the public health of Californians,” the two-page document read. “The California Department of Public Health looks to establish consistency across the state in order to ensure that we mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”

The intent was to slow the spread.

“Our goal is simple, we want to bend the curve, and disrupt the spread of the virus,” the order continued.

THE PIVOT BEGINS

California residents, including those in San Joaquin County, were required to stay home except for essential needs, such as buying food or medicine and going to work.

Many nonessential businesses in the county were forced to shut down, including family entertainment centers, gyms, hair and nail salons, restaurants and shopping malls.

Schools, including Delta College, closed the doors on the physical campus and converted to remote education. 

On March 17, 2020, President/Superintendent Dr. Omid Pourzanjani sent out a campus-wide email informing faculty, staff and students that the campus would be closing for face-to-face instruction and student services until April 6, 2020. The April return date wouldn’t be kept.

In a 10-day period, 1,000 Delta College employees began working online, with 2,000 courses moved to remote instruction serving 18,000 students “learning from home,” according to a March 27, 2020 post on Instagram from the college.

Students who had never taken an online course and professors who had never taught an online course suddenly had to learn how to navigate the Canvas learning management system.

Student Jennifer McKinney said she experienced “mixed emotions” upon hearing this announcement.

“I was a bit disappointed because I’m in my last few semesters at Delta before I graduate and hadn’t taken classes on campus yet,” McKinney said. “My first on-campus class was one of the late-starting classes for that semester so I still haven’t taken any classes on campus.”

CHALLENGES ABOUND

While McKinney was disappointed, she also felt a sense of relief.

“I do have underlying health issues that put me at a higher risk, so it was a relief to reduce my chances of exposure as much as possible,” McKinney said.

While McKinney was already accustomed to remote education, she faced other challenges during the pandemic, including her own battle with COVID-19.

McKinney spent nine days in the hospital after being diagnosed in April 2020.

“I still have medical issues that are a result of having COVID,” McKinney said. “Mostly the fatigue, which comes out of nowhere sometimes. I finally have gotten to the point where I can do a light workout for roughly 10 to 15 minutes without difficulty breathing, but some days I can’t even walk from my bedroom to the kitchen table without having trouble.”

McKinney also experienced grief during the pandemic.

“I lost my cousin to COVID and a few friends, and the stay-at-home orders put me in a very unhealthy and unsafe situation at home,” McKinney said.

McKinney said she became a victim of domestic violence.

Statistics show domestic violence increased during the pandemic.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a nine percent increase in emergency calls from March to May 2020, when many states began issuing stay-at-home orders.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

McKinney said she is hoping in-person courses resume soon so she can get out of the house.

“At the same time, I can’t help but feel selfish in thinking that,” McKinney said. “It would get me away from the situation at home, but it would come with the cost of possibly putting too many at risk of COVID if we reopen too soon.”

Student Steve Rincon said initially he “felt kind of great” when in-person classes were cancelled.

“I was really tired of going to class,” Rincon said. “I’m pretty sure at the time, everyone was kind of happy that they cancelled classes because they didn’t have to go to school.”

Rincon said after a while, the excitement of not having to go to school wore off.

“I kind of realized how important the classes were and I kind of regretted the fact that classes were cancelled after that because I was no longer able to ask my professors any questions directly.”

Rincon said he missed the convenience of being able to wait until classes were over to ask his professors questions and receive prompt responses from them.

“I have to go out of my way to ask a question now,” Rincon said. “I have to email the professor and wait for them to reply, if they have the time for it. I’m no longer able to wait until after the class is over or just casually go to their office whenever I want to.”

Rincon said he also experienced boredom and a lack of motivation after being at home for an extended period of time.

“Being at school, I was able to go to the library and talk to my professors and do all kinds of things,” Rincon said. “Being at home, you get more comfortable. I stopped doing homework and I stopped studying so I felt an impact.”

STALLING POINTS

Rincon isn’t alone. Students worldwide have reported feeling a lack of motivation during the pandemic.

According to a study from The Journal of Medical Internet Research in September 2020, 71.2 percent of students indicated their stress and anxiety levels had increased during the pandemic. Mental health issues have been linked to lack of motivation in students.

“Taking online classes really hindered me,” Rincon said. “I was so used to being on campus studying and not at home studying. I wasn’t used to studying at home.”

Rincon didn’t only face challenges at school. He also faced challenges in the workplace.

Rincon was working at Empresso Coffeehouse when the pandemic began. He said employees at the coffeehouse saw a significant cut in hours.

Rincon said his father also lost hours at work and the family didn’t have much in savings.

“We were forced to move out of our apartment because we weren’t able to afford living there,” Rincon said.

Pew Research data taken in 2020 shows that roughly a third of adults surveyed “say they or someone in their household has had to take a cut in pay due to reduced hours or demand for their work” due to the pandemic.

Rincon said he was forced to use his financial aid money to pay for rent and groceries, and had no money left over to pay for his classes.

“I wasn’t able to finish my degree on time and now I have to wait until the end of this year to graduate from Delta,” he said. “I had to set my education aside until this summer, when I’m going to be taking classes again.”

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS

Colleges nationwide have seen a decrease in enrollment since the start of the pandemic.

The headcount for the Spring 2021 semester at Delta College is down 8.6 percent from 2020 and down 6.4 percent from 2019, according to a presentation to the Delta College Board of Trustees by Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Instruction and Planning Dr. Lisa Aguilera Lawrenson on March 22. The Spring 2021 headcount of students is down 9.6 percent from last year at this time, with a decline of 1,728 students, Lawrenson’s report indicated.

While students like McKinney and Rincon are hoping to return to campus in Fall 2021, plans haven’t formally been announced by the institution.

In an Instagram Live Q&A session held on March 22, President/Superintendent Dr. Omid Pourzanjani said the institution is considering adding additional in-person classes in the fall.

“We don’t plan on being fully reopened unless the pandemic conditions change significantly and we get different guidance from the state and from the federal government,” Pourzanjani said.

Pourzanjani’s comments align with California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley’s statement to the Board of Governors of the system on March 22. Oakley told the board that each campus is looking to local guidance from public health partners.

“We do expect to see a reopening, but given that no one thought we would be here a year ago, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Oakley is quoted as saying in an EdSource from the next day.

San Joaquin County, which was trending toward moving into the “substantial” red tier last week with 9.9 new COVID-19 cases “per day per 100K” within the Blueprint for a Safer Economy infrastructure, readjusted to 11.6 cases on March 23. The county remains in the “widespread” tier as 83.2 percent of the state resides in the substantial tier. San Joaquin County’s status will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, March 30.