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The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

By Dr. Downing Kress, Modern Languages Faculty

The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

If I could travel back in time to March 2020 and describe to my former self the current state of the world, I would not have believed my own words. Never would I have imagined that I would be teaching French to high school students all over the world using Zoom, a platform I had never encountered before last spring, when I was teaching literature to undergraduates at NYU. On the eve of Spring Break 2020, when the NYU administration announced that break would be extended for one more week before likely bringing everyone back to campus, I don’t think that any of us – students, teachers, researchers, administrators – were prepared for the reality that we would, in fact, not be returning to our classrooms, lecture halls, or offices for the remainder of the academic year. Never would I have imagined that the only place I would be seeing my students would be on the computer screen, and that this strange new way of teaching would a year later be as habitual and familiar as brushing my teeth. Never would I have imagined that COVID-19 would affect my day-to-day life in the ways that it has, nor would I have imagined it would structure the ways in which I teach, as well as what I teach, in the language classroom. But teaching is always a learning process, and 2020-2021 has given us much to learn.

The world has changed and we have been transformed in innumerable ways over the past year. We have been forced to be apart from one another, something that is entirely unnatural to us humans. We have adapted by replacing visits with friends and family with FaceTime calls, and by trading out classrooms and large gathering spaces for breakout rooms found on our computer screens and cell phones.

And yet, despite our adaptations to living our lives virtually, much about this past year has been very much anchored in the physical word. Obviously, the very thing that pushed us into this virtual state – the coronavirus – is physically real. COVID-19 wreaks real havoc on the body of its victims, and also on the mental, social, and physical wellbeing of us all. The physical manifestations of this “invisible enemy” are pervasive and glaring, influencing the ways we operate and affecting the rhythms of cities and towns all over the world.

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A Year of Fear: Reflections on the Pandemics of Covid and Racism

By Mr. Adam Jewell, History and Social Sciences Department Head

A Year of Fear: Reflections on the Pandemics of Covid and Racism

The flash and noise of sirens, the rush of adrenaline and fear, constant fear, all-around you, rushing out the door, jumping in an ambulance, and racing off to the hospital, is scary, to say the least. In the winter of 2016 and 2017 and again in 2018 this was the norm for my family, my daughter, all of one year old, growing into being a toddler spent winters suffering from RSV to the point that going to the doctor’s office, would lead to a trip to the hospital, often the ICU, NICU when she was really young. As Covid began to overtake us, first through stories and conversations with advisees from China and South Korea, and then finally here at our doorstep, these fears that seemed to have disappeared as she got older came roaring back. We shut down our campus, public schools also closed, and the thought of even interacting with others became a daily fear, a fear that brought back the days of doctor’s visits and ambulance rides and the very legitimate fear that my daughter just could not breathe.

Juxtapose that with the reality of my black and brown friends, peers and students. Look around at the overwhelming fear of violence and even death that surrounds them. These did not start with George Floyd’s murder, nor did they start with my most visible memory of police violence from my life, that being Rodney King. Indeed, as an historian, the long, destructive impact of systemic racism, lynchings and chattel slavery are chilling realities of the African American experience I spent nearly thirty years of my life researching, learning, and talking about. Those words, “I can’t breathe” etched into our collective memory by Eric Garner and the very fact that my own daughter often could not breathe represent to me personally the twin pandemics we are faced with today: systemic racism and Covid.

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How serious is air pollution in worsening the effects and spread of COVID-19?

By Ashley Battiata, VI Form

How serious is air pollution in worsening the effects and spread of COVID-19?

Student Note: For the final two weeks of Remote Learning in Advanced Environmental Science, I chose to learn more about COVID-19. The prompt was broad; therefore, I specifically focused on how air pollution and COVID-19 are related. For example, does air pollution spread COVID-19 faster, and does it worsen the effects of the pandemic? Or do these two environmental problems not impact each other at all? While researching, I expanded into another topic that most people weren’t talking about: how both air pollution and COVID-19 are affecting a specific demographic.  

A very specific type of air pollution called fine particulate matter or (PM2.5)  is associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 in the United States. PM2.5 is associated with burning things, such as coal in a power plant or gasoline in one’s car. It is dangerous because of how microscopic the matter is, specifically 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which gets into the lungs and bloodstream and causes damage to our health.The smaller the matter is in diameter, the easier it is to penetrate into the lungs and bloodstream and to get past airways designed to cough out irritants. This leads to future problems such as asthma, heart attacks, and other chronic diseases.  According to a Harvard study, an increase of only “1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate,” which proves that there is a relationship between exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality rates. 

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