Menlo’s Myopic Lense: How Wealth Has Skewed COVID-19 Understandings at Menlo


Tatum Herrin

Menlo students have a warped perception of COVID-19. Staff illustration: Tatum Herrin.

Tatum Herrin, Assistant Spread Editor

Sometimes, tragedy brings us together. Other times, it cracks the earth and leaves fissures between us. Tragedy can also walk the delicate line between these two impacts. During the pandemic, we are all vulnerable; no one is wholly immune to the virus or looming stay-at-home orders. We can find comfort in knowing that fear of sickness and the looming threat of loss are shared experiences. But on the contrary, COVID-19 has also displayed our self-preserving nature as American citizens and as humans. The pandemic has shed light on the glaring wealth disparities in the US, especially Silicon Valley, and has displayed the capabilities of different communities to handle COVID-19. Menlo students have observed that the Menlo community takes a distinct, myopic perspective on COVID-19, influenced by the comfort wealth.

Menlo sophomore Maddie Brown explained how her experience during distance learning has varied from her friends’ experiences at local public schools like Menlo-Atherton High School and Palo Alto High School. “In terms of my education, [COVID-19 has] allowed me to focus a lot more academically,” she said. “[Public schools] don’t really have the same resources as Menlo, and their classes are a lot bigger, so it’s harder to make online school accessible for everyone,” she said. Lower-budget schools struggle more with distance learning than schools like Menlo, impacting the long-term learning of children in lower-income families, according to the Los Angeles Times. Due to a lack of resources, many students of these schools have fallen behind in their studies. 

According to an article in the Almanac, Menlo-Atherton High School was completely online for all of the previous school year. Menlo students, on the other hand, were able to attend class in-person for several weeks of the second semester last school year thanks to on-campus testing and plenty of open space. But even when forced to stay at home, distance learning wasn’t the end of the world for most Menlo students. The majority of us have access to a stable internet connection, printer and quiet space at home to learn. Menlo students were able to pick up their own “science kits” from school, engaging in lab-based learning despite being stuck at home.

For many Menlo students, our understanding of the issue is reduced to our own experiences. Both Menlo senior Griffin Perks and Brown know several Menlo students who broke quarantine knowing they had COVID-19. Perks recognizes that, earlier in the pandemic, he wasn’t as careful as he now wished he was. “It’s hard to take something [seriously] when you haven’t had it,” Perks said. “For the first year and a half, I knew maybe one family that had [COVID-19], so I didn’t really think it was that big a deal. And I’m also a kid, so I knew it wouldn’t affect me. […] I didn’t consider the severity of the issue, which made it easier for me to slack off,” he said.

Countless Menlo students still maintain this subconscious mindset, the mindset that their personal experiences with COVID-19 are universal and the mindset that COVID-19 isn’t all that big of a deal. For many students, Menlo has become an echo chamber of this belief. 

For a Menlo student, getting COVID-19 is an entirely different reality than the average American. When most Menlo students get COVID-19, they don’t have to worry about having to stay home from work or school for a month, losing their source of income, and being incapable of putting food on the table. Most don’t have to worry about falling seriously ill, and not having the resources to be treated. 

While it is true that the death rate of the omicron variant is significantly lower than the original strand of COVID-19, the U.S. remains in the midst of a dangerous and highly infectious disease. On the week of Jan. 8, 2022, there were 7,833 deaths involving COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the CDC. 

Further, anxiety from illness is removed by the padding of wealth to a certain extent. Many Menlo students are not concerned with access to testing, medicine and professional medical attention. “[Getting a COVID-19 test at Menlo is] super easy. It takes two minutes max. It’s just whether or not the kids remember it or want to take two minutes out of their day to do it,” Perks said. “[My friends at public school] are baffled that we have testing done at our school. It’s something we’re really fortunate to have.” W Conflicting federal guidance and a national shortage of rapid-test kits caused many districts to struggle with ramping up or establishing in-school testing programs. In many areas, schools were unequipped to provide testing and forced to close according to the New York Times.

Brown has heard Menlo students hope they contract the virus, joke about contracting it and even travel on planes after contracting the virus as if the spread means nothing.  This kind of behavior reflects the warped perspective many Menlo students maintain and their lacking awareness of how COVID-19 can affect those different from them.