A Health Crisis Transforms into a Humanitarian Crisis; South America’s Fragile State

By Sasha Danielle Rafiy

With bodies abandoned on sidewalks and new burial grounds cut into thick forest, South America was one of the world’s hardest hit regions by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A year later, among many other social and economic problems, South America remains a COVID-19 hotspot, with a recent surge of cases in many countries that is even more deadly than before. 

Born out of political instability, corruption, social unrest, fragile health systems, and extensive inequality, South America’s inadequate and unsatisfactory COVID-19 recovery was inevitable. 

According to recent data collected by the New York Times, despite holding just 8 percent of the global population, South America accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world. Recently, an aggressive coronavirus variant was discovered in Brazil, having spread throughout South America, prompting deaths and hospitalizations to skyrocket–even in countries that have widely administered the vaccine. 

Colombia, a country of 50 million, is seeing occupancy in intensive-care units hit 90% in the capital, Bogotá, with hospitals in other cities at their breaking point. The mayor of Bogotá is warning the residents to prepare for “the worst two weeks of our lives.”

The variant from Brazil is not only a problem for South America, but also a global problem in fighting the pandemic. The P.1 variant has spread to countries including Canada. In the province of British Columbia, officials have recorded 2,062 cases of P.1 as of April 26, up from 974 as of April 9. Other nations should be taking 

South America’s crisis as a lesson as it could be a driving force in the pandemic.  

What began as a health crisis in South America is now a humanitarian crisis; experts worry about what effects the pandemic will have on the nation’s future. As one of the globe’s “longest-haul Covid patients,” public health, the economy, social and political scars are a prime concern, which may run deeper than anywhere else in the world. Although this issue may not seem like a prime concern to rich countries who are returning to some type of “normalcy,” global involvement is necessary to handle and prevent the spread of these new variants.

Booze and Gyms But No School in NYC

By Sasha Danielle Rafiy

Over the past months, New York City life has slowly come back together; people can make reservations and eat dinner inside restaurants, run on the treadmill at the gym, grab a drink from the bar, and shop around at their favorite stores. However, while all of this is happening, over 1 million public school students in New York City remain at home sitting in front of a computer screen all day (if they are even lucky enough to have one). 

Online learning has significantly disrupted the education of many of the 1.1 million students in the New York City public school system. According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, low-income, black and Hispanic students have significantly suffered through online education; through an analysis of the 477 school districts, “it found that only a fifth have required live teaching over video, and that wealthy school districts were twice as likely to provide such teaching as low-income districts.” With more relaxed instructional expectations and no live-meetings, it is inevitable that students will slack off and disengage from online learning.

In addition, researchers begin to worry not only about the quality of the students’ education, but also about the effect social isolation has on childrens’ mental health. Sitting at home all day on a computer limits the amount of exercise and socialization students get.  

As many cities in the United States have prioritized keeping restaurants and bars open–rather than schools, countries in Europe took another approach: closing restaurants and bars while keeping schools open. 

In fact, many European nations have proved that it is possible to flatten the surge of coronavirus cases while schools remain open. For example, France reinstated its lockdown with a positive test rate of 11 percent (almost 4 times higher than New York City’s rate), yet decided to keep schools open. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, an infectious disease specialist who advises France’s government on the pandemic, explained that “the decline has been slower because schools are open, but we had to find a middle ground.” However, he added, “the slower drop in infections has been offset by positive effects on education, mental health and the economy.”

The significance of prioritizing education goes back to a renowned 17th Century English philosopher, John Locke. In his treatise, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, published in 1693, Locke emphasizes the importance of education; “Of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil useful or not, by their education.”   Locke proposes that it is education, not going out for a drink, that makes a man who he is. 

Locke highlights the essential need for education to further understand important aspects of our life, such as citizenship and government. He notes, “proper calling is the service of his country, and so is most properly concerned in moral and political knowledge; and thus the studies which more immediately belong to his calling are those which treat of virtues and vices, of civil society and the arts of government, and will take in also law and history.” Here, Locke shows how education has incredible value, and should be prioritized as it is essential to politics, understanding law and government, and citizenship.

In addition, one of Locke’s central themes in Some Thoughts Concerning Education is to make learning enjoyable for children, rather than it seeming as a task or duty. He notes, “Learning anything they should be taught might be made as much a recreation to they play as their play is to their learning.”  According to Locke,  just as children play at their own liberty, they should also learn at their own liberty.

As a current student attending Beacon High School (a public school in Manhattan), online learning is far from enjoyable. In fact, it resembles exactly what Locke described education should not be: a task or a duty. Reflecting on my past education experience, it was such a privilege to come into school, do experiments in the labs, physically see teachers and classmates, socialize with friends and participate in-person in after school clubs and sports. 

Therefore, as John Locke described, education is among the most important things in life–and should be prioritized in New York City during this pandemic over nonessential businesses.

Works cited page:

Crittenden, Jack, and Peter Levine. “Civic Education.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, August 31, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/civic-education/. 

“DOE Data at a Glance.” web. Accessed December 11, 2020. https://www.schools.nyc.gov/about-us/reports/doe-data-at-a-glance.

Goldstein, Dana. “Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions,” June 5, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/coronavirus-education-lost-learning.html. 

Holden, Drew. “What Has Lockdown Done to Us?,” December 8, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/08/opinion/covid-lockdown-isolation.html?auth=login-google.

“John Locke.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., October 24, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Locke.

Locke, John, and F. W. Garforth. John Locke: Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Woodbury, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 1964.

Onishi, Norimitsu, Constant Méheut, and Antonella Francini. “Positive Test Rate of 11 Percent? France’s Schools Remain Open.,” November 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/30/world/europe/france-covid-schools.html.

Ruiz, Michelle. “New York Schools Are Closed, Restaurants Are Open, and Our Society Is Broken.” Vogue. Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.vogue.com/article/new-york-city-schools-are-closed-restaurants-are-open.