Evan Kauffman, Fall 2020 Scholarship Winner

Our Fall 2020 Scholarship essay prompt asked students, “How have you personally been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and what have you learned? What have you done to help others in your community during this time? If you were in charge, how would you have addressed the concerns we’ve seen?” Evan Kauffman is our first place winner, and will receive a $1,000 scholarship for college. You can read his winning essay below.

Evan is a senior at Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida, and the youngest of 7 children. His parents have fostered children for the past five years while also working full-time. Evan has played football since elementary school, and is now a defensive back on his school’s varsity team. He also enjoys video games, building computers, and helping his community. Congratulations, Evan!

This year has been completely unpredictable and truly unprecedented. What started out as a normal end to my junior year in high school quickly turned into days, weeks, and months of fear and uncertainty. Back in March, sitting with my classmates at school, I could not have anticipated that I would not step inside the classroom again for nearly six months. As COVID cases increased, my family began to experience losses and changes. My brother postponed his wedding, three of my siblings lost their jobs, and shutdowns at the daycare meant the children my family fosters had to stay at home. I am the youngest of seven children, and the only one still living at home. With both my parents working full-time, I quickly became the go-to babysitter and schoolteacher for my foster sibling and nephew.

It was very stressful at first. I was balancing teaching a 4-year old his letters, rocking a 6-month old to sleep, and still attending school online as well as and at my local community college. This gave me an appreciation for the hard work my mother put into raising seven children while earning her MBA. Once the school year ended, the chaos decreased. Two of my older brothers returned from college and my sister flew home and worked remotely. The house was full again and instead of feeling isolated, our quarantine felt more like a summer-long family reunion. What began as a daunting experience turned into a blessing because I was able to spend some of my last months at home growing closer to my family and creating lasting memories for the future.

Through fostering children with my family for the past five years, I have become passionate about helping at-risk children. I have also volunteered at Hope Helps, an organization that provides food and jobs for families in need. The current COVID crisis has disproportionately impacted the children of these at-risk families. During the pandemic, calls to the abuse hotline to alert the Department of Children and Families that a child may be at risk have decreased dramatically. Glen Casel, the CEO of Embrace Families, Central Florida’s largest foster agency said, “[o]ur primary callers to the abuse hotline are teachers and health care professionals. Well, those two industries look a little different today…”1 The lack of calls certainly does not mean there is less abuse in our community, it’s just going unreported. While my peers and I miss the normalcy of school, the most vulnerable children are missing the protection provided by teachers and school administrators due to school closures. This is a serious concern of mine. While we were protecting families from COVID by closing schools, we were inadvertently leaving many children in unsafe home environments.

If I were in a position of leadership tasked to lessen the impact of COVID-19, I would address the problem with the vulnerable in mind. I would focus more on those with no voice and no control – children and the elderly. One of the practice areas at Brooks Law Group is Nursing Home Abuse. The group’s website lists several forms of abuse the elderly can experience but I would focus on “willful or passive neglect.” COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly. According to the CDC, “8 out of 10 COVID 19 related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older.” Because of quarantine restrictions, family members are unable to visit their elderly relatives, leaving them completely at the mercy of nursing home staff. Much like teachers and administrators in schools, families who visit nursing homes provide vital checks to ensure there is no abuse occurring. This crisis has left those in nursing homes isolated and unmonitored.

Currently, there have been 49.1 million cases of COVID worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of both cases and deaths. A startling 9.7 million people have tested positive, and 235,000 people have succumbed to the disease. In other countries, the keys to lower cases seem to be preparation and testing. In Australia, for example, the government has updated its pandemic response plan over the past several years based on their experience with previous pandemics such as Avian Flu and Swine Flu. Australia poured resources into these efforts, which is reflected in the low number of cases. The country has only had 27,645 positive tests and 25,159 of those patients made full recoveries. In contrast, America cut funding to the public health sector in 2018 and disbanded the Pandemic Response Team in 2020. Cases soared because America lacked the infrastructure to address a disease of this magnitude.

Another factor affecting cases is testing. While America may lead in total tests, it ranks fourth in tests per capita. In South Korea, the virus outbreak was contained in just 20 days. How? Testing and tracking. It implemented wide-scale testing through well-organized drive-through and walk-through sites. Anyone who tested positive was tracked using GPS, credit card records and video surveillance. The results from this tracking were uploaded to an app that citizens could use to avoid crossing paths with COVID-positive patients.

An initial concern that arises with tracking is privacy. While tracking seems to be an important element in containment, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires a more measured approach. The 4th Amendment provides individuals with a “reasonable expectation of privacy” against government enforcement. Forcing individuals to allow the government to trace each step they make could violate this expectation of privacy. So, a mandated tracking program may not be completely feasible in America. However, the District of Columbia has begun to roll out a tracing program which people can choose to join. This could ease some of the tension between privacy concerns and tracking. As a leader, I would use my influence to encourage people to join the program and make sacrifices to save lives. It is not reasonable to send children into schools or allow families back into nursing homes while cases are increasing. If we are to protect the vulnerable, America must quickly contain the pandemic.

COVID-19 has drastically impacted our country and our world. Things will likely never be the same as they once were. While family time and community togetherness have been positive outcomes, cases are still rising and people are still losing their lives and livelihoods to this disease. America should look to other nations’ responses and begin to implement some of their policies. However, our responses should not neglect the most vulnerable or the rights we as citizens are guaranteed. The pandemic is not going to be solved by politics, money, or shutdowns. It is going to take trial and error and some level of sacrifice from all of us.

Steve was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As was the practice for new doctors his father worked day and night during his medical residency at Charity Hospital there. Steve comes from a long line of doctors. His father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, even two uncles were all specialists and/or surgeons in their chosen medical specialties, including internal medicine specialist, obstetrics / gynecology, neurosurgery and general practice / surgery. His great-great grandfather was the Surgeon General of Ohio during the Civil War.