Farmers already felt isolated. The COVID-19 pandemic made it worse.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated farmers’ feelings of isolation, according to a recent survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The percentage who said social isolation affects farmers’ mental health jumped more than 20% in 2020 compared to 2019.

At the nation’s largest student farm organization, a reckoning on race

When Xavier Morgan first enrolled in the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in 2010, he wasn’t necessarily interested in farming. In fact, his admission to the school, which his aunt recommended due to its strong reputation for career and technical education, was in part a product of chance.

“I actually have no family ties to agriculture whatsoever,” says Morgan, who grew up in Chicago. “We went one day, took an application, and then I got in.”

By his sophomore year, Morgan found himself involved with the school’s chapter of the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. He was first drawn to the organization — the largest student-led farm group in the country, with 600 members at his school — for its leadership opportunities. But soon he came to have a passion for agriculture, eager to shape the future of an industry that he now considers “the most important in the world.” He began to rise through the group’s leadership ranks.

Thousands of students from states with higher infection rates may return to University of Illinois

As many as 25,000 students may return next week to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from areas with much higher infection rates of Covid-19 than Champaign County, according to a review of public health data by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The campus has a total of about 51,000 students, of which 5,508 attended online in the last academic year. The university is located in Champaign County, which has a population of about 207,000, has an overall positivity rate of about 2%, although recently rates have been below 1%. 

The Midwest Center compared infection rates from public health data with student demographics and found: 

More than 20,000 students came from 357 Illinois ZIP codes that have positivity rates over 5%. About 33,000 students from 1,050 ZIP codes attended the university in the last academic year.10,769 of those students are from Illinois ZIP codes with positivity rates above 8%.As many as 5,000 students may be arriving from 33 states that have positivity rates higher than 5%. Governments are advised to have a Covid-19 positivity rate at 5% or lower for at least two weeks before reopening, according to the World Health Organization.