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The Spill: Closing Borders

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With the COVID-19 coronavirus now classified as a pandemic, many nations across the globe are imposing stricter border controls to slow the spread of the virus. Some countries are limiting travel only from Coronavirus hotspots such as China, Iran, and Italy, while others are looking at broader bans.

On March 11, President Donald Trump announced that he would be stopping all travel from countries within the European Union (a group of 27 countries in Europe) for 30 days. U.S. citizens will still be able to travel home, as will those with permanent residence. A few days later, the European Union leadership did the same thing, banning non-essential travel to the continent for at least 30 days. “The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Canada has also closed its borders to travelers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in self-isolation, and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. On March 16, Trudeau announced that all travel from outside Canada would be severely limited. It was first planned to keep the land border with the United States open, but the two countries have now agreed to close it for non-essential travel.

Russia followed closely behind Canada by a matter of hours in deciding to ban all foreign travel. These new restrictions are set to last until May, but they are not the first measures the Russian government has imposed. Just days after news broke of a major illness coming out of Wuhan, restrictions were placed on flights from China. Some other countries that have temporarily banned entry to foreign nationals include El Salvador, Israel, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, and India.

A Quiet St. Patrick’s Day

Tuesday, March 17, marked the Irish celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The annual event is usually celebrated with public parades and parties, but this year’s festivities were curtailed due to Coronavirus concerns. People were still able to get together in smaller groups and, of course, wear the color most associated with the holiday – green.

Some of the largest events in the U.S., including the Boston, Chicago, and New York parades, were canceled due to the virus. “This decision is being made out of an abundance of caution to ensure that we are doing what is needed to keep the residents of Boston safe and healthy,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said on Twitter.

But who was St. Patrick anyway, and why is he celebrated on Ireland’s national day? The short version of the story is that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.

The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, is actually thought to have been born in Britain during the 4th Century, before being captured and sold as a slave to a Celtic priest in Ireland. After being forced to work as a shepherd for six years, he escaped back to Britain and took up a post as a Christian cleric. Eventually, he returned to Ireland as a missionary aiming to convert the region to Christianity.

While the legend goes that St. Patrick is celebrated for driving the snakes out of Ireland, modern scientists claim the island was never home to the reptiles due to the cold climate. Historians now think that “snakes” were a metaphor for the Druids, a pagan religious group once native to the region.

Though St. Patrick’s Day recognizes the Irish nation, the biggest celebrations are held in the United States. Large numbers of Irish immigrants flocked to America during the days of Ellis Island, and they built up large communities. They were the victims of discrimination, however. As described by the BBC, “in the face of their ill treatment, Irish Catholics in America decided to throw huge, proud parties on the 17th March to celebrate their heritage and show pride in who they were.”

Today, the Irish are accepted for their contributions, and their national day is celebrated around the world.

School Canceled over COVID-19

Government bodies around the U.S. have announced that public places will be closed or restricted in efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. These closures include restaurants, tourist attractions, and schools.

According to US News, more than half of young people in the U.S. have had school canceled to slow the spread of the virus. Governors have ordered the closure of schools in 33 states across the country, while in other states, just a few districts have decided to close schools. “The last time we had a lot of cities closing down was during the Spanish influenza” of the early 1900s, commented Linda Darling-Hammond, education professor at Stanford University and president of the Learning Policy Institute. “This is, in our lifetime, a pretty unique experience.”

For some, online classes are an alternative. Chemistry teacher Randy Huybers has been broadcasting lessons to students from his empty classroom at Woodinville High School. “I was very anxious (at first) but I was amazed at the kids’ responses and how human it felt to interact with them through the screen,” Huybers said.

But not all young people across the country have internet access at home, and some are concerned that those without access to online classes may fall behind. “If we can’t provide that online learning for all of our students … it’s not fair to do it for some students,” said Tim Robinson, a spokesman for the Seattle school district.

President Trump has encouraged parents to give home-schooling a try, and many parents are coming up with ways to keep education going at home. Communities are trying to figure out how to provide support for families that may struggle financially keeping kids home, or whose parents still need to work.

“While we are not questioning the decision to close schools to address this public health crisis, remote learning is likely to be a struggle for many families, including families with children who need more support to learn successfully,” Kim Sweet, executive director for Advocates for Children of New York, said in a statement. “It will be important for schools to make extra effort to ensure that remote learning benefits all students.”

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