Reckless students give rise to Groves Plague

By Erin Parker

Seats vacated. Absences plentiful. And a pinpointed origin is unclear.

The term coined “Groves Plague'' has been the topic of conversation as student absences become increasingly noticeable. These absences followed the homecoming festivities that previous week. With the pregame field day BBQ, the homecoming football game, and Saturday night’s dance, they all serve as primary suspects in the investigation of what caused the plague. Students have spent most of the last school year in confinement, distanced from the high school activities in which they frequently engaged, separated from the friends they’d once enjoyed these activities with. Spirit Week in the year 2021 is a distant comparison to Spirit Week 2020.

“Spirit week 2020 wasn’t really enjoyable because no one really participated, especially since we were online. It was hard to feel like we were part of a community like how spirit week really is. Being back together has also brought back that competitive spirit. As a school, our school spirit is really high, especially during spirit week. It just gives us time to finally do something together again,” senior Rhyan Hurns said.

This week almost served as a rekindling, destined to bring together peers that had long been separated. But in all that excitement, few students remembered that we are in the midst of a surging pandemic. A truth so few acknowledged when they entered into the stands of the football game, or onto the floors of the gym without their masks.

“I was a little worried about being in the gym because I know some people are very lax on their masking in the building, in general. So I think when they’re in a relaxed environment, it is more likely for people to take their masks off. I kept my mask on the whole time during the dance, but about half of the people in the dance probably did not wear a mask or had them barely on. So I was a little uncomfortable, but I tried to stay away from people and keep my mask on throughout the dance,” Hurns said.

Her fears aligned with those of half the students at the dance, who continued to wear their masks for the entire evening, careful to not incur any exposure. They foresaw what looked like a disaster in the making.

And disaster, it was.

As classes became more empty with more seats left vacant, the few students who remained were left to partake in a guessing game of, “What caused the plague?”

Was it the homecoming football game, where students cheered in close proximity as they rooted for the football team? Was it the pre-game spirit week festivities, wherein the courtyard, masks were nowhere to be seen as students painted their faces, took pictures, and celebrated in preparation for field day? Was it homecoming night, where all students of all grade levels converged for a night of music and dance, unbothered by the relaxed mask usage? Or was it the parties that followed? Houses overflowing with kids, too busy releasing the remainder of their homecoming energy to worry about COVID-19 protection.

All possible suspects; no clear assailant. At least, not yet.

While many other homecoming dances this year transpired outside, Groves was one of the few schools where students danced indoors. Seaholm and other schools in surrounding districts held dances outside. Many either in courtyards or on football games. While a distant comparison to where dances are typically held, we are also living in a world opposite of normalcy. What was once typical, cannot always be so, in this current state. Hurns recalled her fears about having the dance in the gym.

“I felt weary the days leading up to the dance. I saw many kids without masks just throughout Spirit Week in general. So I was certain we would be around a lot of kids without masks. I knew other schools were having their dances outdoors, and I am still wondering why we didn’t. Spirit Week was super fun, but it was truly a chaotic mess. I just knew that germs were spreading everywhere.” Hurns said.

When school is in session, masks are mandatory. Many wondered why the same rules didn’t apply to spirit week activities. Students crowded the dance floor dressed in riveting attire. At various moments throughout the dance, when popular songs were played, students formed large groups in the center of the gym, where they joined in “mosh pits”. I don’t know what good this would bring. An accumulation of students all in close proximity, many without a mask in sight, screamed disaster to me. Willis expressed her concern about the mosh pits.

“The mosh pit was fun, but I should have stayed outside of it. The hot gym was not aired out. It was probably infested with everything,” senior Nyla Willis said.

Few of Willis’ classmates shared her concern as many were in the center of the mosh pit, without any masks.

Photo by DeChaun Parker

I am pictured with Junior Evan Parker replicating the notorious “mosh pit” from the homecoming game, this photo captured November 7. Students engage in all the homecoming festivities, all the while acting in a nonchalant manner about masks. With few masks visible, an event of that magnitude could easily be pinpointed as the cause of the Groves Plague.

In a relaxed environment, in times where leniency is ill-advised, people acted as if their peers were expendable, just collateral damage at the expense of their reckless enjoyment.

At what cost do students own up to their carelessness, and consider how actions affect the people surrounding us. Students who were absent due to illness were at the expense of recklessness, whether acting on their own accord or being victim to another person’s negligence.

Willis recounts the first time she felt sick, and to no surprise, it followed the Monday of spirit week.

“I realized I was sick the Monday after homecoming. I was coughing, and my throat was hurting. It's just congestion and coughing and I literally just started sneezing. My voice is also gone,” Willis said.

Her sickness lasted two weeks following the dance, and she was absent for five days from school. Nyla was one among many to be affected by this illness. Hurns was also afflicted by the Groves Plague.

“At first I thought it was just a sore throat to begin with. But the Monday after homecoming, I started to feel like my throat was hurting a lot more. Then that Tuesday, I felt a little congested, so I went home early because I didn’t want to cause any safety issues with me being sick and spreading it. So I went home that Tuesday, and it kind of progressed as the days went on. I didn’t go back to school until Friday,” Willis said.

Photo by Erin Parker

Desks empty, absences plentiful, and a classroom environment unlike most. The Monday after homecoming, October 4, found many classes similar to this one. Seniors pictured in this AP French class were only a small fraction of the typical class size.

Hurns and Willis, are also students in this AP French class who were absent for days following spirit week. These seats, seen vacated, added tension to the classroom environment, as students in class questioned their whereabouts. Willis can recall returning to class, with her and Hurns being ill at the same time. Seeing each other sick served as a confirmation of the plague’s existence.

“I definitely feel like the plague is real, only because I have it. Compared to Rhyan, I feel like we have the same symptoms. When I cough, Rhyan is coughing right after me in French. Last week, on Wednesday and Thursday, no one was really there,” Willis said. “Everybody is leaving now, and it is not COVID because my mom gets tested every week for her job. I see her every single day, and if I had it, she would have it. It's not COVID. We’ve been in the house for so long, and we have not really been getting exposed to colds, cases of the flu, and regular sicknesses. I feel like that is why it's hitting so badly.”

Willis’s speculations are in line with reality. There have been fewer opportunities to get sick, as most students were virtual the previous year. Regulations enacted to safeguard against COVID-19 prevented physical interactions, which slowed down the spread of common cold and illnesses.

According to the Center for Disease Control, flu activity was abnormally low for the 2020-21 flu season both in the United States and globally.

But pandemic restrictions have eased a great amount. And as evident by the state of our school, everyday germs have returned as the menace they once were.

School is back in session. After a rough academic year, students now breathe the same air, occupy the same space, engage, and interact without reliance on technology. Returning to this state of normalcy is not easy, and this was proved evident by the Groves Plague. Typical illnesses were almost at a complete halt for a while during the pandemic. Students returned at max capacity in school, and those illnesses resurfaced when rules were not abided by and when masks were not worn.

But that was not the only issue at large around that time.

Weeks before spirit week, another issue was wreaking havoc in our school.

Hurns saw a moment where she thought someone was compromising another person’s safety when she witnessed students snatching other students’ masks off in the halls. She found the fact that students were playing with each other’s health very concerning.

“I was in the hallway between 4th and 5th hour, and there was a group of people walking by, running through the halls; boys I believe. They were pulling each other’s masks off as a joke, and snatching them off each other’s faces. They were mostly medical masks because I think they were easier to break. The recipient seemed shocked and they seemed like they were in pain from the mask being pulled off their ears because it snapped. So I think it hit them in the face. They were a little red-faced, probably from the pain. Overall, he looked very shocked.”

These events show the risks some students are willing to take when it comes to the mask mandate. There is a mandate for a reason: to protect lives and prevent the spread the Covid. Is abiding by those rules that arduous? I understand how a mask is sometimes inconvenient: the material is scratchy against our skin, it repeatedly slides down our faces when we talk, the fabric is bothersome, or you sometimes just want to breathe natural air. I understand those concerns. And I would recommend pulling down your mask only when it is safe to do so, out of the proximity of peers and faculty. That way, we can prevent ourselves and others from getting sick. We need to control the controllable and be cautious of matters out of our control. To ensure the safety of the Groves community, and our peers and faculty, wearing masks can prevent the resurgence of a Groves Plague.

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