COVID-19 upends life

via https://www.state.gov/coronavirus/

The COVID-19 global pandemic, also know as the novel coronavirus, has thrust the world into a historic and frightening time.

It is changing everything about life as we know it right now, leaving people without jobs and unable to be close to friends and loved ones.

For a news junkie like myself, watching and reading the news is fascinating. Every minute a new revelation is reported.

COVID-19 was first reported Dec. 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has spread around the world. For a complete timeline of the spread of the virus, please see the World Health Organization‘s information: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen.

Business Insider also has an informative timeline: https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-pandemic-timeline-history-major-events-2020-3.

As the virus spread, people flocked to grocery stores to stock up on essentials. In most locations, items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and hand soap are sold out. Many shelves are empty.

The Centers for Disease Control has put out numerous guidelines for dealing with the situation. Though the list is often updated, but experts consistently say that simple hand washing can keep people safe.

Serious Situation

Even with such wide and deep reporting on the situation, some people aren’t taking it seriously, and that is infuriating. That’s why I don’t get on Facebook much these days. The ignorance just makes me angry.

This is a very real event, and people are endangering the lives of themselves and others by not heeding the warnings. They are making light of it, but with children and a wife who has pulmonary embolisms, they are vulnerable to the disease. I refuse to allow them to be put at risk.

People who don’t take this seriously are selfish, and those who blame the media for inciting panic over something that isn’t a serious situation are ignorant. 

Why would the media incite panic for no reason when the end result would be the cancellation of sporting events and other news coverage opportunities that bring in billons of dollars in advertising and other revenues? 

I live in Kansas, and March 30 a state-wide state at home order went into affect to help combat COVID-19.

Such steps are being taken to create social distancing, which is an act of staying away from other people to help stem the spread of the virus.
Experts believe that slowing down the transmission of the airborne disease will prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients all at one time.

This is called flattening the curve.
For the news junkie, this bit is fascinating as well because news organizations across the country are experimenting in realtime with new ways to deliver the news. I love seeing the innovation. I just wish it wasn’t under these circumstances. 

For our part, my family has only left the house to play in our yard. I’ve made a few trips to Walmart and Dillons to get supplies (grocery and medicines), but that’s it.

Some might think I am overreacting. I don’t think I am, and I certainly don’t want to be told I under-reacted because that means people I love have died.

And yes, barely leaving our house means my wife and I are not going to school to work. 

Teaching from Home

On March 17, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly ordered all K-12 school buildings to be closed for the remainder of the school year in response to COVID-19. My wife and I both work in K-12 schools.

This means Sterling High School’s halls, where I work as a journalism adviser for the yearbook and the monthly newspaper, will be quiet for the conceivable future as students will be barred from entering the building.nHowever, meals will still be provided to students, ages 1-18, who need them.

Learning for Sterling High School students will continue, though, as the Kansas Department of Education released a plan for continuous learning March 18.

This plan outlined many options for school districts to continue to provide education to students while they are in their homes. For some, this will mean online education. However, if a student does not have adequate Internet or technology to do this, physical packets of work will be provided.

Under the continuous learning plan, high school students will be expected to do 30 minutes of work per class for a maximum of three hours per day.

How this will ultimately look is still unknown as the situation is fluid and plans are still being solidified.

“We are going to figure this out together, and do the best we can for our kids. We are fortunate to be in a community that supports our schools and will be working with us to make this work,” Superintendent Jim Goracke said in an email to staff.

For more information regarding the governor’s announcement, please see the Wichita Eagle’s coverage: https://www.kansas.com/news/coronavirus/article241278466.html.

This decision came on the heals of the cancelation of all spring sports and activities sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

KSHSAA also canceled the state basketball tournaments after the opening rounds were completed. The Sterling High School boys’ basketball team had won their first game in the tournament before play was stopped.

Of course, my wife, who works as an eighth grade English teacher in a different district, is doing the same thing. We are both teaching our classes online.

For me, this is an interesting situation because my students and I still have the yearbook to finish. This has resulted in a lot of maneuvering to get all of our files off the school’s severs and into a Dropbox account, and then the students had to get computers with the necessary software and Dropbox access to work on the book. This has resulted in several video conferences and Slack messages to get things organized.

Luckily, I have a fantastic editor, and she has been working on reorganizing and reimagining our coverage for the spring section of our book. We will get it done, it will be great, and it will be even more historic (it’s already our 100th edition of the yearbook, so, in a way, this historic time is perfect for this year’s annual publication).

Since this is my last year at Sterling High School, it is difficult for it to end this way and for me not to get to spend the remainder of the school year with my students, but we will still finish strong. I’m confident of that.

Keep in mind, though, my work at the high school is only part-time. I am a full time assistant professor at Sterling College.

That institution, like every other college and university in Kansas, also suspended in-person classes. This required faculty like myself to quickly transition all of their classes to an online-learning format.

It took a few days, but I got all seven of my classes transitioned. I’m sure doing so was easier for me than some of my peers because I already relied heavily on Canvas, our learning management system. Even so, it had to be quick work. It won’t be the same as our in-person classes, but I hope it is still beneficial for the students. 

For example, in my Media Law and Ethics class, we were ready to really dive into the ethics portion. So instead of in-class discussions, we are using discussion boards. For my Print Journalism class, they are using canned interview and research material to write articles instead of doing the in-depth features of people of campus we had planned to do. For my Public Relations lab, my Practicum and my Senior Projects classes, they are doing individual projects instead of the more group-orientated work we had hoped to do. 

It isn’t the same because I simply can’t expect them to put themselves in danger to interact with other people while a pandemic sweeps the country and world, but it was all created with the goal of still giving the students the experiences and skills they will need moving forward. Again, I just hope I hit the mark because I care about my students and want them to succeed.

That’s the point, see? At both the high school and college, the students are my concern. This is a stressful time, and suddenly being forced to do online learning when they certainly didn’t sign up for it isn’t fair to them. However, it is the situation we are faced with. All we can do is band together and support each other in any way we can.

Documenting History

For me, writing is my therapy, and I think students would be served well by writing about this too. However, it doesn’t fit super well with the curriculum of all of my classes.

But I do have some reporting classes.

One of my classes at the college, just like at the high school, produces a newspaper, so they are already committing journalistic acts of reporting and writing on a regular basis. I felt they needed to continue that work.
As most news and sports events we would normally cover are no longer happening and all members of the staff are scattered back to their homes across the country, a new tack has to be taken to produce journalistic content that serves our readers. 

And that is our ultimate goal. 

Even if times of disruption, journalists don’t just stop working. If you turn on the television and watch any morning news show, you will see journalists reporting from their living rooms (late night talk show host Stephen Colbert even did a segment from his bathtub while wearing a suit . . . but don’t feel like you need to do that). 

Journalism is important, especially in times like these. Even in places where stay-at-home orders have been implemented, the media has been categorized as essential, which it certainly should be.

We are writing the first draft of history. We have to document what is going on.

After talking with trusted peers, an idea developed. 

We can still contribute to the coverage of COVID-19 as it relates to the places and people we we cover. 

To do so, each student will write weekly personal reporting pieces, which are essentially news columns, and post them to their respective news websites. 

The subject of these reports should cover how the students are dealing with the COVID-19 situation, what things are like at home, how people are reacting, what they are feeling, what the shelves look like if they go to a store, et cetera. 

Furthermore, each report should include interviews from two other people. These people could be family members on occasion, but the focus should be on people they go to school with. They should be reaching out to their friends and contacts to find out how they are doing and what they are seeing and experiencing. 

Part of documenting all of this includes pictures. So the students should also use their phones’ cameras to capture visuals to accompany their reports.

I don’t know what kind of content we will end up with, but at least it will still achieve the goal of documenting this crazy time.  Also, it will provide some semblance of normalcy for those classes because they will still be reporting.

You can see the students’ work at www.warriorstudentmedia.com and www.sterlingstudentpublications.com.

Doing My Part

And, since writing is my therapy, I figure I need to do some of this work as well. I can’t possibly keep up with actual reporting of the COVID-19 situation because I don’t have the resources necessary to do it. But I can do what I’m asking my students to do. I can document my own experiences.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share my thoughts and experiences. Sometimes this might delve into how the news outlets are adapting. And sometimes this might be more about how I’m feeling or what my family is doing to cope with our new normal.

Regardless, I feel it is important to make sense of everything and chronicle what is happening the best way I can. 

Until I get the first post, considering this a bit of a prelude, written, I urge you to go wash your hands and stay home. Don’t put yourself and others at risk. COVID-19 is deathly serious.

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About toddvogts 770 Articles
My name is Todd Vogts. I am an assistant professor of media. I like the color green, riding my motorcycle, and being with my family and friends. A good book is a perfect companion for me any time, and I'm a published author and journalist. Visit my website at www.toddvogts.com and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/toddvogts.