The photo of delighted teens in football uniforms, fans in the stands and high school cheerleaders in brown and white waving golden pom poms could have been a photo of Friday night lights.
But when a school district in Jenks, Oklahoma posted footage of its champion high school state football team celebrating the victory over the weekend, the response was far from praise.
Between the oversized gold knots, bright yellow cowboy hats and hundreds of students gathered in jubilation were a small handful of masks – reminders of the viral pandemic ravaging the region and the country. Hundreds of comments on the Jenks public schools Facebook page were bubbling up, after the country set horrific new national records for COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations last week.
“Why isn’t anyone wearing a mask?” asked one.
“Great spreading event?” another asked.
“Each of these kids is old enough to know what’s going on and to wear a mask,” wrote a third. “I’m only a few years older, at most. Shame on each of them. When their elderly family dies, I hope it will eat away at their souls for the rest of their lives.
As homecoming dances, weddings, and other large-scale events have emerged as symbols of rebellion in a country that cannot seemingly abandon large-scale disasters, the fact that a school trumpets such reckless behavior has touched a nerve.
“I understand the kids are excited and probably had a tough year and that was good news for them, but it was upsetting,” said Lori Buchanan, an Uber Eats pilot who lives in Oklahoma City and has grew up in Edmond, where the match took. up, during a phone call with The Daily Beast. “They have come to our town and our town and behave like this, then eat in our restaurants, pump gasoline at our gas stations, and leave germs all over town.”
The Tulsa Health Department, which covers the county where Jenks is located, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Beast on Monday. But the latest figures show Tulsa County had 36,375 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 289 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. A report by the White House Coronavirus Task Force last month described the spread of the virus in Oklahoma as “inflexible” and said that “the most recent trends, showing steep slopes for all indicators, require immediate action, including mask requirements to reduce the severity of morbidity and mortality among Oklahomans. “
Elise Ramsey, a 22-year-old Jenks High School alumnus and currently a University of Tulsa student, told the Daily Beast she was “horrified” by the post.
“Health professionals have been publicly begging the community to do everything in their power to slow the spread for several weeks,” Ramsey said. “I live with at-risk family members – including a retired veteran – and we haven’t felt comfortable going to stores or restaurants for months.
After the backlash, the district apologized on Sunday, saying it “recognizes and accepts this criticism.” But he did not delete the message in question. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Beast on Monday.
“There were too many high school students without masks and too many high school students in close contact with each other,” said a statement posted on the same Facebook page, in which the school pledged to maintain stricter security protocols at future events. “It’s not the kind of safe environment that JPS seeks to create for students and staff.”
Still, Jenks High School said on Facebook that it would return to in-person learning on Monday. And the apologies were not satisfactory for many in the community.
“The very fact that the photos were released without any mention of the pandemic and only a slight apology after the public reaction is, I think, very telling,” Ramsey said. “Jenks does not exist in a vacuum.”
The game took place at the University of Central Oklahoma at Edmond. Visitors, students, and campus staff are required to wear headgear when within six feet of others. The town of Edmond also has its own mask ordinance in effect until February 28, 2021, reported Kansas City Star.
“It seemed like there were a lot of people in the stadium,” Edmond Mayor Dan O’Neil told The Daily Beast on Monday, adding: “We don’t control what happens at the university or in the school system.”
Even though the virus’s earliest epicenters in the United States were primarily large cities, recent months have shown rural and suburban communities to be far from immune from its threat.
“I think people think they’re safe because they’re in their little suburban bubble, and that’s just not true,” Buchanan said, noting that the match was around 3pm. miles from his house.
“There are so many people making sacrifices,” she added.
Nancy Vandenhende, 24-year-old small business owner who lives in Tulsa and attended the Jenks school system from kindergarten to high school, admitted that “there was nothing like a Friday night under those lights. “.
But Vandenhende said such memories are no reason to ignore the pandemic as it enters a twisted new wave during a widely anticipated holiday season to send even more overdriven cases and deaths.
“It saddened me deeply to see people not taking the necessary precautions to protect everyone around us,” she told the Daily Beast. “We need to do better and care more for those around us.”
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