Opinion | The legacy of COVID-19: what we’ve learned and what’s left to do

Bennett Jefferson, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic, although not completely over, has currently subsided to a point where most of our typical pre-pandemic routines have returned. ETHS and Evanston are much safer than we have been in the past two years. The judgment of the school administration on the reversal of the mask policy is debatable, but it is undeniable that we would’ve been in a much worse situation at the beginning of last year without masks compared to now. For myself and many others, normalcy has returned, but the many school policy changes that took place throughout the past two and a half years are still fresh in our minds. 

The new assignment of cafeterias, which has been considered very unpopular among students, is one of the most drastic changes from last year’s lunch policy, with students being freely able to choose from not only the cafeterias, but also the Planetarium Courtyard, Senior Courtyard, and Beardsley Gym. Lunch policy is just one example of something that has gone through multiple changes during the pandemic. The change brought on by the pandemic was improvised since there was no plan in place for such an absurd circumstance. The conditions of online learning and the cautious in-person learning of last year were far from ideal, but they were very different, allowing for changes that were completely new and unexpected by students. Now, with things going back to normal and COVID policy being reversed, it raises the question: what COVID-era policies could and should the school keep?

To start, the reversal of the mask mandate has been rather controversial. As one could see walking around the halls during school, many people have finally taken off their masks for good this time. However, there still is concern among some students about this drastic shift from last year’s policy. 

“I think its very stupid to let people to have contact with hundreds of people everyday, maskless, in an enclosed space like a classroom,” says junior Spencer Poe. “I feel like that’s just inviting COVID-19 to spread.” 

I still wear my mask frequently, but I think it remains to be seen whether or not the mask mandate needs to be reinstated, but hopefully the spread of COVID still can be contained without too many more restrictions or interruptions in the school year. However, if the situation does happen to get worse and begins to threaten the safety of the students and staff again, I hope the administration would be willing to require masks within the school again.

While the questions of mask mandates would most likely show the majority of students being okay with not having one at the moment, the cafeteria situation is one which many students would want to see return to how it was during COVID-19. 

I, along with many other students, think that the new assigned cafeterias have created more problems than they fixed. For one, the cafeterias are now half-full when it takes twenty minutes to go off campus for lunch, creating traffic and forcing students who want to go outside to waste their limited time for lunch. The contrast between last year’s lunch policy and this year’s is very apparent to anyone who went to school last year. For me, having more options not only meant I could find more space to eat to keep myself safe but also an opportunity to enjoy the outdoor spaces we have on campus such as the Planetarium and Senior Courtyard. Being outside in the courtyards gave me the chance to relax and refresh from the monotony of a typical school day. 

“[The courtyards] were big and easy to access,” says junior Oliver Seder. “They were a very calm and comfortable environment for students who didn’t want to eat in the lunchrooms.”

Leaving the courtyards open for lunch is ideal but even if we can’t, I think it would be preferable to use the space for large social events not even exclusively for safety but also to enjoy the benefits of being outside. 

According to an article from WebMD, being in outdoor spaces can reduce anxiety, help with focus and better sleep and increase your vitamin D. It is well-known that being outside can improve people’s general wellness, and we should take advantage of the spaces that we have on campus to make our days as students that much more enjoyable.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it left many things unknown. But now, we are much more secure in our plan to prevent the spread of disease in school. The school has been successful in protecting its students. It seems, at least, the changes made in the past two years have been trial and error and shown us what changes have and haven’t worked for the pandemic and what we can carry forward. Overall, I feel confident that the school can and will try to protect us from another pandemic by going back to a mask mandate if necessary, but with the other issues discussed within the school today, experimentation could be the solution.