Corona Virus

Coronavirus concerns causes CCM campus closure

By Benjamin M. Richards

Politics Editor 

The campus of County College of Morris was closed Friday, March 13 and will not reopen until New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy allows it. His order caused all colleges and universities across the state of New Jersey to close in order to protect students, faculty, staff, and community members from the Coronavirus. CCM classes moved online starting Monday, March 23, after spring break concluded. All in person meetings, activities and events, including the 2020 graduation ceremony, have been cancelled. Field trips, sports practices, and games have also been cancelled. 

During CCM’s spring break, the county of Morris set up tents in Lot 1 of CCM for Coronavirus testing. New Jersey and at least seven other states have now been ordered to stay at home.

Almost immediately, many in the U.S. were aware of the spread of COVID-19 and the danger it represented to people physically and to the U.S. economy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an American non-profit organization that focuses on the role of the U.S. in global health policy and major healthcare issues facing the United States, as of February 13-18, 2020, 56 percent of those polled said that they had heard a lot about the COVID-19 outbreak and 87 percent said they knew that there were already cases in the U.S. United States citizens were also worried about the economy, with 57 percent saying that they are very or somewhat concerned the COVID-19 outbreak will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. 43 percent of those polled also reported they were concerned they or someone in their family would fall ill. All this concern over personal health and well-being has prompted people to take precautions like stock-piling food and supplies. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick, a sophomore communication major, was on a trip to Florida to visit family over spring break but was able to return with time for groceries. 

“Right after my flight back from Florida, I went to ShopRite and got the essential food items I needed. Since then, I have been self-quarantining and haven’t ordered food or eaten out for the most part,” said Fitzpatrick. 

U.S. citizens have not been laid back when it comes to buying food and essential items. In fact, they’ve taken to hoarding them in massive quantities. According to Newsweek, commercial stores in the U.S. have had such a difficult time keeping their shelves stocked that some people have resorted to traveling elsewhere for goods. Until the U.S.-Mexico border closed, Californians had been heading down into Northern Baja, Mexico to buy toilet paper, water, and other goods as stores in the state struggled to maintain a stock of said items.

Of course, access to food and toiletries isn’t the only issue facing CCM students. Another problem that students are feeling presently is the shift from in-person classes at campus to a completely online second half of the semester. Fitzpatrick mentioned that having all of his classes online is an uneasy thought. He said that he has taken online courses before and hasn’t been satisfied, as he believes that there are core aspects that just aren’t transferable to an online experience, like asking your professor questions and engaging with the class in real life.

 

The CCM approach to transitioning classes from a campus experience to an online platform has been tough. Updates have been sent by the administration via Blackboard notifications and emails to students’ college accounts, but that may not be enough. 

“Translating classes from IRL to digitally taught will be a learning experience for both faculty and students. As time goes on, people will become more comfortable with the format shift. Something that might help students stay aware of the constant changes and know the basics of what the college’s plan is for this transitional period would be if CCM sent updates through Titan Alerts instead of just email, as many students check their phones more often than they check their academic email addresses,” said Fitzpatrick. 

As diseases and pandemics can cause fear and mistrust, they can also bring xenophobia and racist assumptions to the forefront of civic life. According to The Atlantic, an American magazine, there has been an uptick in instances of racism related to the irrational fear of anyone who appears as Asian, regardless of their nationality, as they are assumed incorrectly to be carriers of the disease. Some of these instances are simply being avoided on public transit or getting a wary eye of distrust. Others are more extreme, as one student from Singapore was violently attacked in London, U.K., just because of his “foreign” appearance. Another instance was when a Vietnamese artist was disinvited from a London art fair just because the organizers thought the other attendees would fear her being contagious. 

Katherine Grosso, a part-time student at CCM and a digital media major, sees that these social interactions are the wrong approach to handling the COVID-19 outbreak in a social setting.

 

“The Coronavirus has changed my community and home in that everyone is living more simply. When I go out for walks, I see children playing with baseballs and bicycles and sidewalk chalk. This virus has stripped everybody of security in belongings because even if we can get belongings, we must ration them… I have found that the people I have passed by on my walks have been incredibly nice, and overall, people just seem to be more compelled to be kind during this time than before,” said Grosso.

Continuing in Grosso’s outlook, she believes that, while the CCM administration has a new and complicated situation to deal with, they are doing a fair job at managing all the aspects of the transition. However, something Grosso believes would make the transition easier on the student body would be if the coursework online weren’t too heavy or overbearing. There is little time left in the semester and as the world spirals into a scary place, it is extra important to have a balance of work and leisure. Grosso also cites her personal faith as something she can rely on in these times of confusion and hardship. 

Despite all the worry and apparent national awareness of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., only 19 percent of those in the KFF poll said that they had taken any measures to stay safe. Those numbers are more than worrying, as while the estimates for how many U.S. citizens will contract the disease vary on available data and testing ability, many experts believe the true number of cases far exceeds the previously calculated number of U.S. citizens that officially have the virus. According to The Atlantic, as of March 21, 2020, on the last day of February, 15 U.S. citizens tested positive for COVID-19; by early March, more than 17,000 have tested positive. Yet, in that same article, virologist Trevor Bedford claimed to have found evidence that COVID-19 began rapidly spreading in the U.S. as early as January and that it has likely already infected approximately 87,000 U.S. citizens. It may seem grim, but a study recently published by Imperial College London predicted that, unless strong and swift measures get put in place, the Coronavirus could kill 2.2. million U.S. citizens in the coming months. It all comes down to how many individuals take this matter seriously and take the necessary precautions like social distancing and self-quarantining and actions the U.S. government and each of the states take to combat the spread of the virus. Stay safe by washing hands for at least 20 seconds on a regular basis, avoid coughing or sneezing openly or directly into your hand, and stock-pile necessary food and other essential items to prepare for long weeks of isolation. With all of these changes, CCM students have been asked to contact the new TASC+ with any challenges they may be dealing with. 

How professors are dealing with the transition to online learning

By Katrina Irhin

Copy Editor

 

Despite the challenges, CCM professors have been finding different ways to move to online lectures for their students, specifically by using the internet and digital platforms to either live stream lectures in real time or record and post them on the internet. Dr. Teresa S. Birrer, a professor of biology, has found several different digital platforms she is going to use to teach her students, and she is going to be using them in various ways to make easy-to-use lectures for her students.

“I will be recording audio on top of my Powerpoint slides using Techsmith Capture,” Birrer said. “The result looks like a YouTube video that can be started or stopped at any point.  These lectures will be posted for students to view at their convenience, as many students must share computers with other family members.”

Birrer is not the only professor who will be using digital platforms to make lectures for her students. Marcia Picallo, professor of languages and ESL, will also be using digital platforms to teach.

“Zoom seems to be… flexible when it comes to teaching and, especially, recording lessons that students can watch several times,” Picallo said.

Lecturing is not the only way that students can learn in the classroom setting. They may also learn through performing science lab experiments. Professors such as Birrer not only lecture for their biology classes, but also teach lab sections for them. Despite the fact that most of her students this semester were supposed to be doing their lab activities at the CCM campus, she nonetheless has found alternate methods to use the internet and make it possible for her students to complete their lab activities at home.

Thanks to the generosity of many publishers, we have a multitude of virtual labs available at no cost for the remainder of the semester,” Birrer said. “I am working with other faculty in our department to select appropriate online lab exercises that will cover the material we would be covering in person. It is not the ideal situation for science courses, but it will certainly work in the emergency situation we are experiencing. Although I normally teach a face to face, non-majors biology course, that course is already taught in an online format, so I have been able to adapt some of the materials from the online course for the rest of this semester.”

Besides lecturing and, for some professors, doing lab activities, professors must also conference with their students. In addition to doing lectures and lab exercises on the internet, conferences are being conducted with the use of digital platforms. One platform that professors are using to conduct conferences is Shindig, which, according to its own website, is a platform that “enables a host to give a video conference, lecture, seminar, interview or media event in front of an online audience of thousands.” 

“After checking out Shindig, I feel that that program will work better for office hours,” Picallo stated.

Shindig is what some professors are going to be using for video conferencing with their students. Other professors have found different platforms that will suit them better.

“As the semester continues, I may teach myself to use some new technology that could benefit my students, but for now I have Zoom which can be used for video meetings with students if they would like,” Birrer stated. 

Despite the fact that there are digital platforms that professors are going to use to help totally move their teachings and conferencing to an online environment, this transitioning does not come without its hardships. As stated by Birrer before, many students share computers with other family members, so some students will not be able to attend the lectures that some professors video stream. There are other conflicts, technology-related or not, that will arise with this transitioning to an online environment.

“I do understand that some students were taking my face to face class because they do not do well with the online format,” Birrer stated. “For those students this will be a challenge.  I will work as much as possible to help them be successful in a learning environment that might not be best for their learning style. I also have a good rapport with my students in person and will miss seeing them. My non-majors evening class was particularly active in asking questions in all areas of biology. I hope they will continue to seek answers to their questions.” In addition, Birrer stated that she knows she has some students who do not have access to any cameras, and others who only have wifi on their phones. “We have some obstacles to overcome, but we will figure out how to work with everyone.”

Birrer is not the only professor who acknowledges that some students find that they work better in an in-person environment, as Picallo recognizes this as well. 

“I love teaching and interacting with students in the class. I’m going to miss that. The online format is just not the same in that sense. Some of the disadvantages, although I don’t want to call them disadvantages; they’re obstacles that a person may have that have nothing to do with their own doing-and that’s why they take a lecture-type class. For example, when I was in college, I had very limited financial resources. If I would have had to deal with something like this, I would have had a lot of trouble finishing my semester. I would have had many obstacles to overcome financially. My survival would have come first. I’m being honest. I’ve already encountered challenges that this situation is presenting. A student may not have Internet or enough data on his/her phone. CCM has reached out to professors, staff and students to provide help to all of us. I’m hoping we can work together to solve some of these issues and get through the semester successfully. I don’t want my students to suffer. I teach because I want all of you to have better lives.”

With there being these types of conflicts that not only students must face but also professors, both Birrer and Picallo want to offer students advice on how to deal with college and life in general during the pandemic.

“It is difficult for all of us to stay at home and feel isolated,” Birrer stated. “My family and I have been watching movies most nights and going for walks during the day.  Try to do everything you would to keep your immune system healthy. Quarantine junk food seems to be a thing, but a healthy diet is important as well as regular exercise and sleep habits. Fresh air and sunshine are not good for the Coronavirus, so as the weather warms up go outside more and more.  I plan to record lectures from by deck soon. Finally, I would like students to know that the faculty are there for them should they just need to talk. These are stressful times, and we must help each other come through with both physical and mental health intact.” 

In addition, Birrer states that what would be the biggest benefit for students during this pandemic would be for them to follow the medical advice of staying safely at home.

Picallo also offers advice for students to help them get through what is currently going on.

“Stay healthy; stay in touch with your professors; and stay calm. We’ll get through this together.”

Coronavirus’ impact on the 2020 primary

By Adam Gentile 

Managing Editor

The Coronavirus pandemic caused chaos and uncertainty in the 2020 democratic primary as poll stations shut down and moved and elections in some states have been postponed to a later date. The possible impacts of Coronavirus on the Democratic primary can be shown using the Tuesday, March 17 Democratic primary as an example, where the effects of the Coronavirus on the four scheduled states have had different scenarios. 

Democratic frontrunner former vice president Joe Biden has won Arizona, Illinois, and Florida, increasing his delegate lead to about 300 over his primary rival Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders securing a total delegate count of 1153 almost 800 delegates shy of crossing that 1991 delegate threshold and securing the nomination.

Originally Ohio with its 137 pledged delegates was also supposed to be decided, however, on Monday Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that Ohio polls will be closed due to health concerns from Coronavirus and rescheduled the election to June 2. DeWine released a statement explaining his decision to postpone the election.

“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus. As such, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”

The New York Times reported that election officials in Florida and Illinois have noted that there has been lighter in-person voter turnout than in 2016.

 “As of 1 p.m., about 126,500 people had voted on Election Day,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The Times reported that Allen said that in 2016 voter turnout at that time [1 p.m.] was around 300,000. Allen also mentioned that over 200 polling places have been moved within the past few days.

Voter turnout in Illinois according to the Illinois Board of Elections was around two million voters. According to the Associated Press (AP), last night’s election turnout with 99% reporting was around 1.5 million voters, a decrease of 25 percent compared to 2016. In contrast according to 538 nearly all of the primary states that voted before last night have seen at least a small increase in voters since 2016. 

Unlike Illinois, the voter turnout in Florida in 2020 is on track to be roughly the same as it was in 2016. According to the AP with 99 percent of votes reported in the 2020 Florida primary total turnout is just under 1.7 million voters while the voter turnout in 2016 was just over 1.7 million. 

Despite the national emergency, the total votes in Arizona were higher than it was in 2016 by about 60,000 votes. 

According to the Arizona Board of Elections, roughly 466,000 people voted in the 2016 Arizona Democratic primary, and according to the AP with 88% reporting about 522,000 votes have been cast in the 2020 Democratic primary. Of the total amount, 380,000 votes cast in Arizona were absentee ballots that had to be requested by March 6.

Earlier this week Sanders told Anderson Cooper his concerns of still holding the March 17 primaries due to the health risk presented to voters due to Coronavirus. 

“I would hope the governors listen to the public health experts and they’re saying is, as you just indicated, we don’t want gatherings of 50 or more people,” Sanders said to Cooper. “And when I think about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people and all that, does that make a lot of sense? I’m not sure that it does.”

The Biden campaign in a memo released on Tuesday had insisted on keeping the schedule for the upcoming primaries the same, claiming that elections have remained as they were during other times of national emergencies. 

“We held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 flu pandemic and World War II,” said Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for Joe Biden, in the memo. “We are confident that we can meet that same challenge today and continue to uphold the core functions and values of our democracy.”