I’m going to start by acknowledging the elephant in the room: the COVID-19 pandemic messed us up. I get it. The mass death of over 1,000,000 fellow Americans left us scarred, and the physical isolation likewise took a significant toll. When you’re stuck at home all day, it isn’t exactly easy to get your steps in, or to stay active in general. I know that my junior year of high school was characterized by submitting a dozen of my assignments all at once during the last week of the semester.
That sapping of energy wasn’t just exclusive to me. Academic achievement was at its lowest in decades across the country. Healthwise, we didn’t fare much better. Lots of us gained weight. Mental health went downhill, as expected when everyone is locked up at home unable to see their friends for fear of death. And unfortunately, COVID-19 is still around. It’s still killing people and destroying families. That’s still a fair reason to want to stay away from large gatherings.
But if that’s the case, why is everyone acting like COVID-19 is gone?
You rarely see people wearing masks anymore. It seems that social distancing is a mere relic from another era at this point. Instead of retaining the pandemic mitigation measures that could possibly stop some of the deaths we’re seeing, it seems we’ve retained all of the bad habits we picked up during lockdown.
For instance, exercise rates are still lower than what they were at the start of the pandemic. Grade inflation has only grown while test scores continue to fall, suggesting eased standards for passing. During the height of the pandemic, these were not necessarily bad things, at least from a certain perspective. What’s losing a little bit of exercise if it means avoiding potentially fatal maladies? Grade inflation, although harmful in the long term, could be spun as a way that schools helped students attain admission to larger, more capable higher education institutions. Hypothetically, these institutions would have more resources to help bridge the gap caused by lockdowns and grade inflation.
But we’re no longer in the lockdown era. Students are back in the classroom, and having a light cough usually isn’t enough justification to have your exam rescheduled anymore. Suddenly, skipping the gym to stay home for the sake of avoiding germs doesn’t seem like such a noble goal. Grade inflation, with whatever defense it may have once had to negate the short term effects of remote learning, is no longer necessary. Students are now back in classrooms with their professors available and questions ready to be answered on a chalkboard.
Despite this, one thing remains true, even in a “post-lockdown-era” world: people’s problems don’t just disappear. You’ve probably heard the statement, “Wow, thanks, I’m cured!” as a joke response to people saying “get over it” in retorting to people’s mental health issues. The same adage applies here. Let’s face it, lots of us saw some of the greatest losses of our lives during the pandemic. Many of us lost friends and family to COVID-19. Some of us couldn’t keep up our health and social circles. There was no way to get out and do anything. The pandemic hurt many of us, and our feelings are real.
Still, the issue isn’t what happened then, but what’s happening now. There’s no doubt that lockdowns saved countless lives. This is undeniably a good thing. But we cannot ignore today’s world. Students, now more than ever, need help to recover from grade inflation that has made them completely unprepared for rigorous coursework. If we’re going to move on from the pandemic era, we need help recovering from all of its effects, not just ones pertaining to the disease itself.
These problems are not our fault. We didn’t ask for a pandemic. But as life returns to normal, it seems like everyone has moved on from the pandemic while leaving the bad to fester, harming us mentally and physically. Efforts are being made to recover: nationally, President Joe Biden has advocated for and signed legislation tackling mental health issues. On Oct. 27, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that this year’s education budget would dedicate money to mental health. On a local level, University of Michigan President Santa Ono pledged to focus on the mental health of students on campus. Though these are steps in the right direction, rates of depression in the state and nationwide have only grown since the onset of the pandemic. More needs to be done.
Nobody intentionally wants to fail. Nobody wants to disappoint themselves and their teachers. People like to be healthy and productive citizens. Despite this, it seems like the cards are stacked against us now more than ever. Student-teacher ratios were already abysmal before the pandemic, and it has gotten no better with teacher shortages growing ever worse. There aren’t enough accessible resources for every student to get the help they need. Therapy? With the exorbitant cost of health care in this country, that seems increasingly unlikely for many when the costs of other necessities continue to skyrocket. When the working American has to spend more time working to fight inflation, fast food becomes a more attractive option when compared to shopping for healthy ingredients and cooking.
When it seems like our only options are a bad choice or a good choice that seems insurmountable, we choose the one that gets us through the day. Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve got less free time because we need to pay the bills somehow, so the gym is the first thing to go. Suddenly, we need to tackle everyone’s problems all at once.
We’ve gotten lazier, and maybe it’s not even our fault. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re worse off for it. When there are so few resources available to help, the task of getting past being “lazy” becomes ever harder. All that we can do now is fight through our laziness or wait for help to come. If we’re treating the pandemic as over, we need to start acting like it.
Mohammed Hasan is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.