Students host unofficial spring break in Florida, increasing Covid spike and emptying classrooms

By Emma Schardt

English teacher Dan Inloes’ students complete a Jamboard as he teaches to both online students and less than a handful of in person learners on April 23. “What’s really difficult is just having a small number of in-person students while 75%+ attend via Zoom. Trying to structure group activities with a combination of live and virtual students is quite the challenge,” Inloes said. Three weeks had passed since we had returned from spring break, and only four students occupied Inloes’ fifth hour AP Language classroom because many students needed to stay home and quarantine.

It was as if we had traveled back in time, back to cohort learning. The halls were empty, the classrooms lonely, the faces on screens plenty.

But we hadn’t traveled back in time. Students had traveled far and wide for spring break to bring Covid-19 back to our community. Before Spring Break the number of new cases in Michigan were around 5,900 and the week following spring break the numbers rose to around 10,500.

Many teachers made comments during class, addressing the emptiness of the halls and the lonely classrooms. Unfortunately, this year the students treated spring break as not only a vacation from school but also as a vacation from Covid-19.

The Michigan Health Department and Governor Whitmer had urged that no one travel over spring break because it would likely spike Covid-19 cases and keep Michigan residents out of school and athletics. Those who traveled should’ve taken the necessary precautions; getting tested, wearing masks and social distancing. I remember scrolling through my social media this spring, seething at countless pictures and stories of fellow students living their best life in Florida, mask free, side by side with their friends and with no social distancing in sight. For a quick moment, I envied them and the fun, free-filled times they were having, but in another quick moment that envy turned to anger and frustration.

The spring break photos didn’t lie.

Along with the overall cases in Michigan, the Covid-19 cases at Groves rose as well. Groves high school Principal Dr. Susan Smith and office staff received endless calls regarding positive cases of Groves students following the week of spring break. “We had approximately twenty-five cases of positive students that were reported to school following spring break,” Smith said.

Think about this. We returned to school full time for two days. Then we go on spring break and we come back and we have twenty-five cases. Twenty-five! That is an insanity, And these were only the twenty-five cases actually reported. There is a great possibility some may have not reported their infection or weren’t aware they had Covid-19, because the symptoms aren’t always as strong in kids. Not only this, when you take into consideration that contact tracing also had to be done, and the school had to figure out who these kids came in contact with over the break, that does end up taking a considerable amount of people out of school for a few weeks.

How could students leaving for college in a short few months be the same ones showing so much carelessness? Upperclassmen are supposed to be an example for the underclassmen as well as younger siblings. Those who went on this huge ‘senior spring break trip’ to Fort Lauderdale, Florida set a bad example for others. Usually, a few parents plan the trip for seniors and send out an email regarding the location and the information for the trip; however, due to Covid-19, no email was sent this year.

The students, instead, themselves planned the trip, even including friends from Seaholm and West Bloomfield. Multiple friend groups sent a location they wanted to go, Fort Lauderdale, and everyone booked the trip. Many students roomed in the same resorts, even the same rooms, and others stayed together in family homes.

The photos alone suggest that these were not “spring break trips” but a planned, nearly school-wde “senior spring break trip”. I had countless photos on my feed from a ‘white-out’ theme night. One Instagram post showed a group picture with at least thirty-five Groves students, all wearing their white outfits for the white-out theme night. They squeezed the huge group into one frame, standing very close together.

I also saw many duo and trio pictures on my feed, with people from Seaholm. Other photos had groups of at least 15 students that were all girls or all boys. A friend also recently showed me a picture on her phone of Seaholm students in a group picture. One kid, in the middle, was holding the Seaholm flag, and everyone else surrounded them. The closeness of all the students hunched over each other, shoulders touching when standing next to each other does not exemplify taking any Covid-19 precautions during their trip. This is exactly the opposite of what Whitmer as well as other officials from Michigan’s Health Department advised Michigan residents to do if any more traveled outside of the state for spring break. Before spring break, On April 2, Whimter warned those in Michigan, especially college and high school students, to remain vigilant against bringing Covid-19 back.

“Covid-19 remains a threat to our families and communities, and we encourage Michiganders to get tested for Covid-19 and are making it easier through these additional testing pop-up sites throughout the state. As always, every Michigander has a personal responsibility to do their part by wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distancing to help us slow the spread of this virus," Whitmer said.

The impact that a single week had on Michigan was astonishing. In a matter of days we had the most cases in the country, reversing everything we had done to come so far. All the lockdowns,mandates, and regulations we followed for so long had been for nothing. Once everyone returned from their week of fun, everyone else suffered. Families suffered as loved ones were quarantined in hospitals due to Covid-19 infections. The death rate was mildly increasing once again. Athletes and coaches were suffering since there was a break placed on some sports regarding their season. It’s frustrating being a high school athlete with only a few months to play and wondering if it might all be taken away for a second year in a row. Teachers were also frustrated, longing for their students to return to class. It was both difficult and disheartening for teachers to plan for the 2 or 3 in person students and a nearly all on-line, zoom class.

“It’s easier to teach when all the students are in the same situation: either attending at home via Zoom or attending in person,” English teacher Dan Inloes said.

This new shift in attendance made it hard to keep teachers as well as students motivated. This made it difficult for teachers to teach as well as keep students engaged during class.

I remember walking into the school the Monday following the break to get my Covid-19 test for tennis. Passing through the lunch room and commons was like floating through a ghost town. I saw a few underclassmen stare at me as I walked past, but, otherwise, the school was empty. A few hushed whispers from lower classmen brave enough to return to the building barely broke the silence.

Inloes felt the depressing lack of students after spring break.

“After the break, there was an even more significant drop-off. For example, in one class where 21 students had indicated they would attend in person, only 3 showed up the first day back from break,” Inloes said.

English teacher Dan Inloes teaches on April 23 to a classroom of four students and otherwise empty desks all decorated with plastic shields but no faces behind them after the rise in Covid-19 cases forced students, especially those who went on spring break, to stay home and quarantine.

Our community can never return to the ‘normal’ we all wish for if it’s not a group effort. Instead of making a group effort to put an end to Covid-19, a group effort was taken to spike the number of Covid-19 cases. Yes, we have to deal with those who don’t believe Covid-19 exists or those who don’t believe masks will help, but we don’t also need to deal with reckless teenagers who decided they needed a break from the pandemic and traveled to Florida. The never ending pictures of groups of twenty in their themed outfits, or the smaller groups of ten students at the beach showed that the need to party on the beach for a week was more important than following Covid-19 restrictions to keep others safe.

During her live announcement on April 2 Whitmer highlighted the connection between Michiganders traveling to Florida and contracting the virus. Whitmer had mentioned that Michigan doesn’t have a Covid-19 issue, it is the people that are the issue. Residents were traveling to hotsports, such as Florida, and returning to Michigan with Covid-19.

“[The] number one state with the most variants is Florida. The number two state is Michigan right now. Anyone who lives here [knows] there is a lot of travel back and forth and those are the numbers,” Whitmer said.

It would’ve been a different scenario if everyone had gotten tested before and after the trip as well as taking the necessary precautions to reduce the spread of Covid-19. However, it was as if all these responsibilities and legal enforcements were brushed off as kids do with their homework or chores. Choose to ignore them for as long as possible until the consequences kick in.

A global pandemic is not the moment to be brushing restrictions aside, especially when the consequences impact thousands of people. Schools were shut down, hospitals filled to the last bed, families quarantined once again. Although kids might’ve shut off reality for a few days, everyone else still experienced the reality of the virus. Upon the return of the hundreds of teenagers who had traveled across the country for spring break and were unsafe, the cases in Michigan surged to the highest in the country, resulting in us being a red state.

The spring sports season faced the possibility of cancellation as a result of the rise in Covid-19 cases, following the week of spring break. As a member of a varsity sport team who already had her season canceled in 2020 during the beginning of Covid-19, I was very enraged to find out that there was a possibility of another cancellation. Spring sport athletes, who also had their season ahead of them, and who attended spring break, baffled me. I could never understand why they would put their final season at Groves at risk. That’s like volunteering to play powderpuff or football in the middle of a varsity sport season and putting your whole team on the line as well as yourself by risking an injury mid-season. The possibility of cancellations for sports seasons started with a rumor that the season would be postponed by an additional two weeks on top of the two weeks that all spring sports were already told to wait. Then the possibility of total cancellation evolved as the cases rose. Everytime the cases increased, the chance of playing grew smaller. It was nerve wracking to go to school the week following spring break.

The impact this vacation had on the state as a whole was much larger than anyone expected. Even if the kids who had participated would’ve been responsible enough to plan through the effects of their trip, no one expected these harsh consequences.

While the consequences that Michigan suffered following spring break doesn’t only rest on the shoulders of Groves’ students, they are still a part of what nullified all the progress we had made.

Everyone needs sun and sand, drinks and day trips, ease and excursions at some point in their lives. I understand the need for the break and the wish to celebrate the end of high school with friends, but why with 100 people at one location? Why didn't it suffice to go with just one friend group?

Yes, we want to be mask free, Zoom free, full of hugs and seeing crowds of people. However, we are not quite there yet, and this over eagerness to have fun with friends almost reversed every freedom we had earned. Not only was the Groves community affected by these rise in cases in our school, but also everything around us. Restaurants had to lower capacity once again, which is extremely straining on the economy and business owners. I know that Jimmy John's, only six minutes away from my house, was shut down soon after restaurants were able to reopen because they couldn’t find enough workers to come in and risk getting infected.

I remember asking all my friends if they planned on returning to school following spring break. We all had simultaneously said “no” since no one knew everyone who went on the trip and who might have the bright idea to return to school. While I understand that the most of those who went on this Fort Lauderdale trip were senior.s trying to make the best of their last two months in high school and celebrate their college acceptances, I do believe that they could’ve celebrated in smaller groups while adhering to the Covid-19 restrictions. I do know that a great portion of the student body didn’t return to school for the first two weeks following spring break because they were worried and wished to be safe.

Smiles in the sun. Laughs in Laudy. Hugs in the heat. As a teenager longing for summer and normal to creep back into our lives, I definitely had moments of jealousy when I saw all the pictures being posted. But when you return from spring break and all you hear is that the cases are rising, hospitals are packed, teachers are lonely, and Whitmer is considering shutting down the state once again, anger creeps inside of you. I am furious, knowing that these kids who went on spring break and didn’t take any precautions such as testing, wearing masks, social distancing, etc. didn’t care about the outcome. This was exemplified by their decision to travel to a hotspot in the country, a state with a no mask mandate and then also post their pictures all over social media, on every platform. Tiktok, Snapchat, Instagram, Vsco, etc. If only those same students had used so many platforms to encourage everyone to stay safe. If we want normality, it takes a group effort to stop Covid-19 from spreading.

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