Thursday marked one year since New Mexico saw its first known COVID-19 case and the anniversary of many people’s quarantine journeys. For some teens in Santa Fe, quarantine has been an opportunity to look inward and discover more about themselves. The uncertainty and chaotic nature of the situation, however, has also thrown a curveball into the lives of most teens.
What started as an extended spring break quickly went south for Santa Fe High freshman Mai Tran-Jorand, who recalls the initial lockdown being emotionally taxing.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, and the stress kept building,” Tran-Jorand said.
This was the case for many teens. According to an article published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of anxiety and depression increased considerably among Americans in the period from April to June.
The spike in mental health crises took place as stores were seeing shortages of essential goods ranging from toilet paper to food and as death rates linked to the virus continued climbing.
Tran-Jorand said it was hard to believe something so disastrous could happen in the United States. “The country should have taken the situation seriously from the start, but once school was declared online indefinitely, I knew things were bad.”
New Mexico declared a public health crisis in March 2020, but that could not halt the rapid spread of the virus. According to data compiled and posted online by TV station KRQE, New Mexico quickly broke into the thousands for numbers of cases nearly a month after the virus’s arrival. An early spike in cases pushed government officials to extend stay-at-home orders and shut down nonessential businesses. Along with that, schools and sports were halted, leaving teens with nothing but time.
Noelani van Loon, a sophomore at New Mexico School for the Arts, recalls feeling like the lockdown would be similar to having another spring break and give her more time to spend with her friends. That turned out not to be the case. “The pandemic has definitely made my social life less existent,” she said.
Many teens share her sentiment. According to a study conducted by Harvard, 36 percent of all Americans, including 61 percent of young adults, feel “serious loneliness.”
When most of the social avenues teens used prior to the pandemic were shut down with no end in sight, teens across New Mexico felt the effects even harder.
Maya Wright, a senior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, said the seemingly endless isolation began to take a toll.
“I thought for sure by now everything would be back,” she said in an email. “However, as time went on, my motivation to do anything started diminishing. I find that after a day of socializing I’m totally drained.”
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges teens have faced during the pandemic has been the transition into an online-learning platform.
“Moving online was really hard for me because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Tran-Jorand said. “My motivation was low and I had little to no structure.”
Due to the less-than-ideal conditions of online learning, the country has seen dramatic changes in student performance. The number of students failing at least one class is higher than usual: According to data released by New Mexico’s legislative analysts, the rates are as high as 4 in 5 students.
Wright has had her own set of issues with the online platform. “I am definitely not getting the same learning experience and I often find myself retaining little to none of the information taught,” she wrote.
Many students have developed their own set of tricks to stay above water. Van Loon said she has developed a routine that she can stick to, while still leaving time for her hobbies and personal life.
“I dance and take classes over Zoom,” she said. “And to keep my creative side busy, I’ve taken up art, more specifically, embroidery.”
For many, maintaining interpersonal relationships during lockdown requires the same amount of diligence as making time for school. Tran-Jorand said that while having a social life is important, so is preventing the spread of the virus: “I have been keeping in touch by any means available. I think socialization goes deeper than texting, so I usually try to have some sort of real-time interaction through Facetime or Zoom calls.”
Recently, things have been starting to look up for New Mexicans. With the steady rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, New Mexico has started its journey toward reopening. Restaurants are allowed to have indoor dining again, and many schools have begun implementing hybrid models.
For teens all across the country, this past year has been filled with chaos, uncertainty and even tragedy. Although there is still a long way to go in the fight against the coronavirus, one thing can be certain: We can be more resilient than expected.