Teachers aren’t teaching at Baltimore City schools these days, but some school buildings are open.
Students still need to eat and learn.
So there was principal Tracey Garrett – wearing a mask and gloves – greeting the children and adults who showed up at Cherry Hill Elementary Middle School.
“Good morning, good afternoon, scholars!” she said to a small group of children who came for homework packets at lunchtime this week.
Classes in Baltimore, across the state and much of the country are now canceled to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus that’s been infecting more people in Maryland every day.
The city started the week with 10 school-based meal distribution sites to provide meals and homework materials to children. They increased that number to 17 today, officials said.
“I went from working five-to-six days a week to no days a week” – Averill Merchant.
Children weren’t the only ones at the school Tuesday whose lives were disrupted by the global pandemic.
As businesses close for the foreseeable future, under orders by state and local officials attempting to contain COVID-19, many of their parents and relatives have lost their jobs.
That’s what happened to Averill Merchant, a cook at a local hotel.
“I went from working five-to-six days a week to no days a week,” said Merchant, who stopped by the South Baltimore school to pick up a homework packet and a lunch for his nephew.
How Long Will It Last?
As citizens hunker down, confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the state have been going up.
State officials verified 28 new cases since Tuesday, bringing the total in Maryland as of today to 85, about a 50% increase from yesterday, which saw a 50% increase from the day before.
City officials said as of this morning there have been five confirmed cases in Baltimore.
At the Cherry Hill school, Garrett asked the children who walked in for homework packets if they needed lunch. At first they said no.
“Are you sure?” Garrett asked.
Finally they accepted the brown bag lunches containing sandwich wraps and fruit. (They declined both regular and strawberry milk, though.)
Garrett said 85-90% of her students receive free breakfast and lunch. Around 1:30 p.m., they had almost run out of their brown bag lunches, of which they had 200 at the beginning of the day.
“They’re asking if they will be able to pass to the next grade” – Principal Stacey Garrett.
Friday was supposed to be a professional development day for teachers, but instead they put together homework packets so that students could continue to learn.
“Definitely it’s tough because they’re not in front of a teacher,” Garrett told The Brew. “People are worried, and also they’re asking if they will be able to pass to the next grade. Some people are wondering if we’re gonna be out longer than we were told.”
Fighting Over Wipes
But missing the breakfasts and lunches kids used to get at school is just one part of families’ worries. Many, Garrett said, have lost their service industry jobs.
Local community organizations are providing hot dinners at a local rec center throughout the week to try and help out.
But Merchant said the sense of crisis and scarcity is palpable everywhere.
He said he went to Walmart the other day and it was mostly picked over. There were two containers of disinfecting wipes, and he was able to sneak in and take one to buy – seizing his chance when people were distracted, fighting over the other.
Merchant said he’s tried to explain to the kids that a lot of people are getting sick, so everyone has to stay home for a while so more people don’t get sick. He said they’re too young to grasp the concepts of social distancing or “flattening the curve.”
“They think they on vacation,” he said. “They can’t really grasp the severity of it, but I’m definitely worried.”
Merchant said he’s not sure how he’ll make ends meet until work resumes, which he hopes happens no more than a few weeks from now. But at least, he said, childcare hasn’t been an issue for him.
“There’ll be no savings at the end of this,” he said. “Seeing as how everybody’s home though, you don’t need a babysitter.”