Coronavirus through the eyes of Utah 10-year-olds

After COVID-19 first turned his life upside down, Beckley Brown, age 10, started tracking the virus.

Each night, the fourth grader at Daybreak Elementary School in South Jordan would borrow his mother’s phone. He’d look up the latest grim statistics on the spread of the coronavirus. He followed its path across Utah, the United States and the world. He committed to memory the number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths.

Then, one day, he just stopped following it.

When his mother asked him why, he said, “It’s just normal now.”

Except it’s not. The school and store closures, fear and social distancing that are happening now as a result of the highly contagious virus isn’t normal for anyone. That includes, perhaps especially, kids.

To get the perspective of some Utah 10-year-olds on life during COVID-19, The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with Beckley and three of his friends — cousins Dexter Mason of South Jordan and Nash Tippetts of Kaysville, and classmate Janelle Suek — via Zoom. Dexter and Janelle are also fourth graders at Daybreak. Nash is in fourth grade at Endeavour Elementary. All their schools have been closed since March 16.

Janelle, like Beckley, took it upon herself early to gather as much information as she could about the virus. Wanting to know why she had to stay home from school, she dug into details like why it’s called the coronavirus (corona means crown, which is what it looks like). She investigated how it attacks cells in the body and multiplies. Then, she found a kid-appropriate analogy to answer her quarantine question.

“If I had 100 M&Ms and three are poisoned and I gave them all to you, would you still eat the M&Ms?” she asked. “Because the likelihood is small, but you could still be poisoned.”

Despite all their research, the kids seem distanced from the enormity of the virus’ toll — more than 250,000 deaths worldwide, including 61 reported in Utah as of Thursday afternoon. They do, however, know the basic facts: The virus spreads easily, is often indicated by a cough or fever and is more deadly to the elderly.

They also know this: “I know I don’t like it,” Beckley said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Beckley Brown and his friend Dexter Mason live on the same South Jordan street, yet they can't hang out. Beckley was photographed at his home on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

The virus has robbed them of their classrooms, their summer camps and spring break trips to Moab, Hawaii and Disneyland. Most painfully, though, it’s robbed them of their friends. Without missing a beat, all the kids said the first thing they will do when their parents lift their self-imposed quarantine is hang out with their buddies.

“I’ll remember I didn’t get to play with friends,” Nash said, when asked what he’ll remember most about this episode in his life.

In the meantime, they have siblings and pets to distract them. That can be a blessing and a curse. Nash most enjoys spending time with his 15-year-old sister, with whom he shares a love of basketball, and his 13-year-old brother, but his 6-year-old brother is getting on his nerves. Dexter said the same about his 6-year-old brother.

Janelle takes her puppy for a walk when she feels crowded by her sisters, ages 8 and 6, and her 4-year-old brother. Beckley, meanwhile, recently joined his 8-year-old twin brothers in temporarily dyeing his hair green. His littlest brother, age 5, missed out on the fun.

They also miss sports, both to watch and to play. They’ve been riding bikes more often, but Janelle said she’s pretty much given up volleyball, which normally is her spring sport. All three boys are basketball players at heart, and Dexter and Nash play the NBA 2K20 video game together almost daily. They video chat at the same time so it can feel more like they’re hanging out.

On nice days, the hoops hung above the garage in their driveways have become their playgrounds while those around their neighborhood are wrapped in yellow caution tape.

Nash gets some one-on-one competition with his sister, who plays for Davis High. Beckley has been following online drills provided by Tyler Halford, a former Utah State University player who runs his own camps. He’s learning how to dribble between his legs. While it’s a nice skill to have, it’s still just practice. He’s ready for some actual games.

“I miss my team,” he said.

The saving grace for the boys right now, the thing they said they look forward to all week, is the NBA documentary “The Last Dance.” Airing two episodes every Sunday on ESPN, it chronicles Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ last season under head coach Phil Jackson, in 1997-98. That it took place a decade before they were born matters little to them.

“I already knew that he was better than LeBron James before,” Beckley said of Michael Jordan, “but then I started watching ‘The Last Dance’ and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, he’s way better.’”

Nash agreed. “Michael Jordan can beat any player any time,” he said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dexter Mason and his friend Beckley Brown live on the same South Jordan street, yet they can't hang out. Dexter was photographed at his home on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

Life for a 10-year-old in the time of coronavirus isn’t all fun and games, though. They still have school to get through, though now it’s being taught in part by distracted and sometimes short-fused parents. All the kids said their parents are doing a good job of teaching them — though their responses may have been tainted by those same parents listening in, just off camera. School also takes up less time now, which means there’s more chores.

There are also more quiet worries.

The grandfather of Nash’s neighbor, a boy his age, died from COVID-19.

“It doesn’t worry me,” Nash said. “A lot of people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing by doing the quarantine.”

Those things do concern his cousin Dexter.

“I don’t want my grandparents to catch it,” Dexter said. “Because if they got it, they’re more likely to die if they got it. My grandma has a health condition.”

(Photo courtesy of Caisa Brown) The Brown boys, from left Taggart, 5; Crew, 8; Beckley, 10; and McKay, 8; stand in front of their grandparents' house in April 2020. Unable to have close contact with their grandparents because of COVID-19, they gave them a "heart attack" by decorating their house with hearts. They also brought them pizza, cookies and a sign.

Beckley has seen his grandparents only through windows. Sometimes they drive by and wave from their car. Once, he and his brothers gave them a “heart attack” by decorating their house with colorful hearts while Abuela and Pops spied from their living room window.

As much as anyone, Beckley understands why they can’t come out. He’s done his research.

In truth, when it comes to the coronavirus, kids may have a better grasp on the situation than they let on. They know their lives now aren’t normal, and it may be a while until they are.

As Dexter said, “I want it to be over soon, but I feel like it’s going to go on forever.”