#BergAtHome: Pottstown, Pennsylvania braces against COVID-19

How one community unites in the face of the Coronavirus

"Pottstown PA High Street." Photo courtesy of Willjay on Wikimedia Commons.

In early March a few known cases of the coronavirus began to be reported in the United States. Eventually, more cases were confirmed, including a few in the state of Pennsylvania. When cases began to appear in Montgomery County, Tom Wolf, the governor of Pennsylvania, ordered all schools to close in an effort to manage the spread of the coronavirus. Montgomery County would go on to be the county most strongly affected by initial cases of the coronavirus in the state of Pennsylvania. On Mar. 13, the Pottstown School district officially closed, leaving students, parents and faculty stressed, confused and nervous about what this meant. 

In the Pottstown School district, all students receive free breakfast and lunch because the percentage of students who qualified for free or reduced meals exceeded 70%, as Evan Brandt wrote in the Pottstown Mercury on Mar. 23, 2014. For many in the district, not being able to feed their children became a main concern. In response to this concern, Stephen Rodriguez, superintendent of the school district, wrote, “The guidance we received was that the schools were to be FULLY closed, with no meal services,” in a newsletter posted on the district site. Eventually, this precaution was lifted, and the district ordered a surplus of shelf-stable food items which were then divided into a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches for an individual student. Families were then instructed to come to any one of the four elementary schools within the district and to receive one bundle for each child in the family each week as the quarantine continued ⁠— initially expected to last two weeks. 

After the first week, Pottstown began to do what Pottstown does in trying times ⁠— banding together and taking care of each other. Soon Facebook became flooded with people looking out for their neighbors, detailing what stores had what staples left, where food could be gotten for those in need and other news updates. In true Pottstown fashion, locally owned restaurants began serving food to those in need, including a local restaurant called Little Italy, and generous samaritans offered to do what they could to care for their fellow neighbors: picking up groceries, making donations and supporting their fellows. In addition to schools being closed, so too were many non-essential businesses, including piercing/tattoo shops, salons and clothing stores. A few of these businesses, including a local tattoo shop called Wizards World, even were so generous as to donate medical supplies to hospitals who are now short due to the paranoia-driven mass-purchasing of masks and gloves. 

While Pottstown and the surrounding towns of Montgomery County were able to band together, there are always the few who don’t heed the advice of those in authority. On Facebook, people pleaded for those who choose to wear gloves to practice proper glove use to avoid cross contamination and to properly dispose of gloves so as not to inadvertently cause more spread of bacteria. Others begged for people to stop treating the quarantine as a joke, to stop using grocery shopping as a social event or a family activity, to stop hoarding more than what you need to live on, and to take this virus seriously by following Tom Wolf’s order to stay home, unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave, so that people don’t lose their loved ones.

Another concern for many was how students would complete the remainder of the school year, about another two and a half months or so. Some students viewed this quarantine as a vacation, but for others, this was hugely concerning, as it has derailed events that they had worked tirelessly for.

“Our teachers, although sympathetic, are trying [their] best to continue our lessons even though 90% of the assignments online are simply enrichment […] the Pottstown Middle School Band has had [to] push back performance dates especially for our highly anticipated High Note Festival,” explained Sean Deppen, an eighth-grade student in the Pottstown School District.

​Attempting remote education is difficult for the District. Students in grades 9-12 have school-provided Chromebooks, which technically allow for virtual education. However, for students in grades K-8, there is no way to ensure access to technology to allow for such an education. Thus, to continue to teach the students with Chromebooks would be a violation of the civil rights of those students in the district to whom no Chromebooks have been distributed. Mr. Matthew Moyer, principal of one of the elementary schools, commented, saying that the district was in the process of trying to continue education and stated that paper assignments were expected to be available for pickup, in addition to meals, in the next week.

​The coronavirus has certainly affected the day-to-day functioning of many in the United States, but if communities band together in the way that Pottstown has, there is sure to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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