BY: NIKKI MIRALA
On March 13th, the speculation of the coronavirus became a grim reality for MCPS students, staff, and families when schools closed to contain the virus. Since then, the number of cases and deaths has increased while lockdown measures of states and precautions taken by the public have declined immensely. While the future of COVID-19 and the state of our nation is uncertain, the history of the virus and the last ten months should not be forgotten for progress to be made.
On January 20th, the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. appeared in the state of Washington. This was followed by a statement made by the World Health Organization on January 30th, declaring the novel coronavirus as a global health emergency. Eleven days later, an announcement was made by the Trump administration restricting entry into the U.S. for individuals who had traveled to China within the past 14 days. At this point, there were six total positive cases in the U.S., and almost 10,000 confirmed cases globally. While the first death due to the coronavirus in the U.S. was thought to have been on February 29th, it was discovered months later that it was actually on February 6th, a time when many were still unaware of the severity of the virus and some even boldly claimed that it was simply ‘a hoax’.
The number of cases in the country soon increased rapidly, making an appearance in almost every state. On March 5th, Governor Larry Hogan announced the first three confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland. All individuals resided in Montgomery County and had contracted the virus from a cruise ship on the Nile River. Two days prior, the Montgomery County Council received a briefing from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security on MCPS’ coronavirus preparedness efforts. MCPS building services strengthened their efforts to thoroughly disinfect communal surfaces, and staff implemented preventive measures such as utilizing posters that reminded students to wash hands well. On March 10th, Governor Hogan announced Maryland’s ninth Covid-19 case, leading to the closure announcement on March 13th which did not come as a shock to most. This coincided with when President Trump declared a national emergency.
The initial plan was to close MCPS schools for two weeks, but once it was clear that no progress against the virus was being made, Governor Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools, Karen Salmon, announced on March 25th that the closure of MCPS schools would continue until April 24th. Five days later on March 30th, Governor Hogan issued a stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the virus, prohibiting non-essential trips. This was also the first day of MCPS’ transition to virtual learning, a difficult and unfamiliar adjustment.
On May 6th, the governor and state superintendent announced that MCPS schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. On that day, the United States had seen 2,708 deaths due to the virus and 24,506 new cases which led to a nationwide total of 164,000 cases. Businesses were suffering, the public was filled with fear, and no one could believe our peculiar reality. The number of cases and deaths were unfortunately high, but due to stay-at-home orders and mask mandates, the numbers began to plateau. This led to the controversial demand to reopen states and businesses, but this risked another spike in coronavirus cases which our country soon saw.
On May 15th, Governor Hogan lifted Maryland’s stay-at-home order, replacing it with a ‘Safer-at-Home’ advisory which allowed manufacturing, retail, hair salons, and worship services to reopen with limitations. However, this was not enforced with the rule of law. This was met with pushback from various officials in our state, claiming the governor was moving too quickly to reopen.
On May 20th, Maryland reached 2,000 deaths due to the virus and 45,000 confirmed cases. Nationwide, more than 93,000 people had died as President Trump defended his claim to use hydroxychloroquine, an unproven preventive of the virus.
In Maryland, the number of cases continued to fluctuate but remained under 1,000 new daily cases throughout the month of June. On June 12th, Maryland entered Phase 2 of our state’s ‘Roadmap to Recovery’. At this time, indoor dining as well as outdoor pools opened to a 50% capacity. Amusements parks and other outdoor attractions opened, enforcing social distancing and strict public health requirements. A week later, casinos, arcades, and malls all opened while gyms and dance studios opened at a 50% capacity. On July 24th, Maryland witnessed a dramatic spike when 1,291 new cases were confirmed, the largest daily increase since May 19th. Nationwide, there were 73,525 new coronavirus cases that day.
The months of August and September marked uncertainties for education. Some school districts across the country took the risk of allowing students to attend in-person with mask mandates and social distancing put in place. MCPS chose the safer route of continuing virtual learning but advanced to a more serious form of it after seeing how the quickly-created spring virtual learning plan wasn’t successful according to students and parents. In the spring, students only had occasional Zoom meetings where few students attended, but now students are required to attend Zoom meetings on a regular basis with a clear schedule given. As time went on, parents with students attending school virtually began to rally to reopen the classrooms while others asserted that online school is the only way to contain the virus.
This August, there was a 90% increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among children in the U.S. according to an analysis by the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This was especially prevalent in the states of Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi within days of starting in-person classes.
On September 1st, Gov. Hogan announced that Maryland could officially enter Phase 3 of the state’s plan, meaning that movie theaters and live entertainment venues will be able to open at a 50% capacity while all retail stores, churches, and indoor dining will be able to increase capacity to 75%. Five days later, Maryland surpassed 112,000 coronavirus cases and reached 3,655 deaths. The state’s positivity rate was up 4% since the week prior. Throughout the rest of September and the month of October, Maryland saw cases increase while the fear of the virus and precautions taken decreased. The U.S. and state of Maryland faced ‘pandemic fatigue’ as the number and size of group gatherings increased, and the initial caution that most carried in March was less prominent.
Since September, the United States has seen an overall increase in coronavirus cases, and deaths as a result. November had extreme spikes with new cases above 100,000 every single day. However, the nation began to see what they hoped was the end of the tunnel on November 9th, when pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer and Biontech announced a Covid-19 vaccine candidate which proved to be successful in the first interim analysis and was deemed 90% effective. If additional testing achieves further success, the ordinary citizen may be able to get the vaccine by spring of 2021.
On November 10th, Maryland witnessed the highest positivity rate since the end of May. As coronavirus cases surged, Gov. Hogan said that indoor dining would go back to a 50% capacity. The Maryland Department of Health issued a new public health advisory strongly warning against indoor gatherings of 25 people or more. The governor said that those who violate the new restrictions could face jail time and/or fines. Maryland confirmed 1,869 new coronavirus cases on November 13th, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.
During the beginning of November, MCPS released a reopening plan which is supposed to be put into action at the beginning of the second semester on February 1st. Through this plan, students will return back to school in three phases. In high school, Phase 1 will prioritize students who are not on track to graduate in any grade, specific special education programs, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) senior students. Phase 2 will allow students in 11th and 12th grade to return back to school, and finally Phase 3 will allow 10th and 9th grade students to return. All students may choose whether or not they’d like to return to school in-person.
On November 23rd, a third vaccine candidate emerged, developed by the company AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford which has been deemed 70% effective. As of November 24th, there were 12.5 million cases and 258,000 deaths due to the coronavirus nationwide. In the state of Maryland, there were 184,000 cases and 4,448 deaths. Meanwhile, in Montgomery County, there were 31,431 Covid-19 cases and 932 deaths.
On December 11th, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Pifzer emergency approval of their vaccine. Soon after on the 14th, the first Pifzer immunization was administered in the U.S, a major breakthrough and turning point in the coronavirus pandemic. Grimly on the same day, the U.S. death toll topped 300,000 deaths. On December 18th, Vice President Michael Pence received the coronavirus vaccine live on national television. Three days later President-elect Joe Biden received the Covid-19 vaccine on national television as well alongside wife Dr. Jill Biden. While President Trump has taken credit for the vaccine, it currently seems unclear whether he will get it and how much he will encourage those who remain skeptical to receive it. Worries grow as a new strain of the coronavirus is found in the UK which is said to have a higher infection rate. As of December 21, at least 614,000 individuals in the United States have received the vaccine. The federal government has noted they have delivered enough Covid-19 vaccines for 4.6 million people. However, this does not cover all of the nation’s long term facility residents and healthcare workers.
Throughout the past ten months, our nation has found itself in a situation that we never would have expected, witnessing unprecedented events every month. To ensure everyone’s safety, remember to social distance, wear a mask, and refrain from gathering in groups as recommended by the CDC. A look back at what our nation has gone through in 2020 is essential to remind us of how crucial it is to take precautions to ensure everyone’s safety until that invigorating day comes when every single individual is able to receive the vaccine, and finally return to a sense of normalcy.