The government’s COVID-19 response is screwing community college students

Pam Brickley /
In the past week, decision-makers on both sides of the political spectrum and across the country are rushing to respond to the pandemic known as the 2019 novel coronavirus or COVID-19. As the name implies, this particular viral strain arrived in December of 2019 in China.
Now that it’s here and creeping into communities, panic is setting in, fueled by reactionary responses from those tasked with keeping our best interests in mind. Schools are abruptly shifting online, events are being canceled or indefinitely postponed, and venues shuttered.
None calling the shots lives paycheck to paycheck. None of them will go home after the press conference they’ve held wondering how they’ll afford rent, or if their job is down for two weeks, or longer. They have insurance that gives them the peace of mind that if they get sick, they can get treatment.
While their intent to protect the most medically vulnerable in our society is valid, they’re doing it at the expense of the country’s most financially vulnerable.
As the number of infected in California began to rise, Governor Gavin Newsom, during a press conference the evening of March 11, ordered the immediate closure or cancellation of any event where more than 250 people would be gathered, urging employers to have employees work from home and the public to remain at home unless necessary.
This sudden, drastic decision and the mass shut down of most of life, as we know it, is sparking panic, leading to stockpiling and price-gouging, leaving many struggling to get basic necessities like baby formula and bread.
Stockpiling is a luxury reserved for those who have money to spare. It’s hard to be at a store when it opens when you can’t afford to miss time off work. How can you stock up and be prepared when some days you must choose between food and the electric bill?
And on the topic of missing work, as a result of the closures, many are having their jobs ripped out from under them. While those who lose hours are eligible for unemployment, many can’t afford to only make two-thirds of their regular wage, nor do they have savings to fall back on while waiting to revive those benefits.
Also, no state infrastructure can support an entire working class on unemployment for long. Although everyone is being asked to stay home if they’re sick, there is nothing in place to make sure your time off is paid unless you test positive for coronavirus.
As of March 13, pre-school. K-12 schools and colleges are closed to students. While colleges statewide, including Santa Ana College, many parents were given short notice that their child would be out of school and in need of childcare. While it’s mentioned that they are “working on solutions for childcare for those that need it,” no answer is available yet. Many childcare providers are also closing their doors, making finding accommodations even more difficult.
The administration at SAC has been vague with information regarding both the virus and its plans to ensure students stay on track to graduate and gain the skills they need to move forward.
Professors haven’t fared much better. Though some have courses already designed to accommodate Canvas, many do not. After little guidance or preparation from superiors, they are being given only three days to train on how to teach online and adapt their curriculum accordingly. It’s a sign of how little the administration respects their incredibly dedicated faculty and a disservice to students who have intrusted SAC with their future.
Many students are enrolled in classes that can’t be migrated online, such as those registered in the Fire and Police Academies, studio and performing arts, and welding. This is another aspect that is being worked on but has no solid answer.
According to statements made during a March 12 conference call, Rancho Santiago Community College District has an existing protocol in the event of an Influenza outbreak that is being used as a framework for the present situation. If it already existed, why did it take them so long to figure out what to do, and why were they so unprepared to enact it? This pandemic has been growing for nearly three months and has been heavily covered by media. They knew it was a possibility but did nothing to prepare for it until they had no choice after Newsom had already ordered the doors closed.
During a March 12 conference call, Jeffrey Lamb, vice president of academic affairs, in regards to closing the campus, said it would result in having to “prime that pump for years to get back if you close. This is the second year and third year I’m concerned about.” The students they might get are already more of a priority than the ones they have, because we aren’t people to them, we’re a commodity. Officals have forgotten that only have a job because of the students they have now, not those they hope to have in the future.
So what do we do? Be kind to each other. It sounds cliche, but it’s more important now than ever. Regardless of race, religion, gender, orientation, or political party, we’re all in the same boat. The person passing you in the aisle at the grocery store has been left in the dark about what’s going on and how to move forward just as much as you. That woman pumping gas the next car over doesn’t know if she’ll be able to go to work tomorrow either. Things are stressful if not downright scary right now for all of us, and sometimes a friendly smile or compassion from a stranger can make all the difference. And for the love of tacos, stop hoarding all the damn toilet paper.​

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