Published Jan. 26, 2020
BY EMMA BROWN
As the U.S. experiences an increase in coronavirus cases, the once seemingly immune town of Carmel has joined the masses as the virus infiltrates the Carmel High School community.
CHS students who tested positive for COVID-19 report that, for months, the coronavirus felt far off, out of bounds of the Carmel community. But as Monterey County’s case numbers rose by more than 200% since November, and friends and family fell ill, they were forced to reconcile with the fact that they were not exempt from infection.
“I’ve been saying for a while that it was only a matter of time before the kids in Carmel got it,” says CHS senior Tayah Grijalva, who was exposed to COVID-19, but tested negative. “It was like a ticking time bomb because someone was eventually going to get it. And it’s just going to spread. It was just only really a matter of time before it was one of my friends.”
As of Jan. 26, 383 cases had been reported within the bounds of the Carmel Unified School District, including Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, and Big Sur, since March 2020. And while that is a sharp contrast to the thousands of cases reported in other parts of Monterey County, the virus remains present and prevalent in the CUSD community, with at least nine CHS students having tested positive, and more having been exposed.
While student accounts are consistent with the widespread belief that COVID-19 symptoms are milder for young adults, affected teenagers report body aches and a more severe version of a common cold.
“I started to get symptoms about two days after I tested positive,” senior Olivia Ramos notes. “I started getting these really bad headaches and I had body chills. I just felt super cold. And then the next night my chest started to feel tight. And when I would breathe in, it felt like the air was cold and it hurt.”
Other CHS students have noted a loss of taste and smell as a result of infection.
“It’s so weird to lose your smell and taste because you walk into a room and food is cooking, but you just don’t smell it at all. There’s no sensation there,” says CHS senior Lyric Tunnel, who tested positive in early January. “I would stick like a candle or perfume right up to my nose and I still couldn’t smell it.”
Some teenagers with less severe symptoms were simply unaware that what they had perceived to be a common cold was in fact the coronavirus.
“When I was sick, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I have COVID,’ because I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I have to lose my taste and smell to have it,’” senior Chris Sanchez explains. “I get sick every winter, so when I got sick, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, this is just another one of those things.’”
With the perceived scarcity of coronavirus cases in the Carmel area, some students who have tested positive note a stigma around contracting the virus, making it difficult for students to admit to friends and family about potential symptoms. They explain that friends that they had not been in recent contact with were concerned for the health of the student. However, those who had recently interacted with them, either briefly or at length, were far more likely to be upset with them.
Pursuant to CDC guidelines, direct COVID-19 exposure results in a mandatory 14-day quarantine. For many students, that means self-isolating in their bedroom.
“I’ve been in my room pretty much this whole week,” says senior Elan Hornik, who was exposed to COVID-19 in the fall, but was recently quarantining prior to an upcoming surgery. “I’ll go out to go to the bathroom and eat obviously, but aside from that, I’ve been pretty much isolated.”
Despite the isolation as a result of quarantining due to infection, students note a bond in being alone together.
“The majority of my friends tested positive or were exposed, so we were all quarantining for two weeks,” says Tunnel. “It was nice that we have it at the same time, rather than being like, ‘Everyone’s out and I’m stuck at home.’ There’s a kind of comradery in it.”
After spending time quarantining and being exposed to the virus, students who were exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 have spent time reflecting on past behavior in an effort to be more conscious with their future actions.
“I was already trying to take it seriously, but I definitely think that I’m going to be more cautious and not go to anything with a bigger group than like four people,” Grijalva explains. “I just don’t want to put my family through quarantining again, I just don’t want to cause that stress again.”
As COVID-19 case numbers in the Carmel area continue to rise, CHS students who tested positive hope for heightened caution among the general public and an increase in awareness.
“I feel like after we all got it, the Carmel bubble was broken,” says senior Alabama Ledbetter, who tested positive for the coronavirus in early January. “It’s been broken.”