In Covid times the school quandary: To send or not to send?
As a mother of two young unvaccinated kids – our older one being 5 years old and the younger one being 9 months old – the decision fell upon us as early as last year when our daughter’s private school decided to reopen after just three short months of being closed. At the time, I was pregnant and exhausted with no help, so we decided to send our daughter back to school.
Yashika Khanna is a former journalist based in San Francisco, California. You too can share your stories with us on firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone reading this story has watched the news in the past few weeks, you would know that the school situation with covid is not looking good. As public schools in America opened in August for everyone to return to on-campus instruction, the cases in children have steadily increased. This includes 500,000 new cases in the last two weeks, a 240% increase in cases since July, children constituting 29% of all new Covid cases nationwide and many of the new infections seen in kids under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated.
As a mother of two young unvaccinated kids – our older one being 5 years old and the younger one being 9 months old – the decision fell upon us as early as last year when our daughter’s private school decided to reopen after just three short months of being closed. Covid was just spreading and the news was grim. At the time, I was pregnant and exhausted with no help, so we decided to send our daughter back to school. The statistics at the time looked a lot different than they look today though. There was no delta variant, children constituted less than 2% of all cases, they weren’t seen as transmitters of the disease and hospitalization & death in children from covid was almost nonexistent.
Our daughter had a good one year in school. While all public schools were closed, her school remained opened with a very strict safety protocol that all teachers and parents adhered to like it was written in stone. Some of the precautions included moving all lessons outdoors, physically distancing kids in the classroom by placing them on floor dots spaced 6 feet apart, all commonly used surfaces sanitized multiple times a day, no food or drinks permitted from outside, mandatory showers before and after school, daily temperature checks, banning parents from campus, multiple handwashes, etc. All things worked beautifully, even after the delta variant became news, and the school remained open. Even the incidence of common illnesses like colds and coughs went down because of how careful everyone was being. Meanwhile, the vaccine made an appearance and all teachers and parents got vaccinated. We started preparing for an open campus starting this fall.
And then something unfortunate happened – the guards went down, for parents and teachers alike. Overconfident of our ability to keep covid away from our lives and bolstered from being fully vaccinated, the social gatherings and indoor activities began. Eating out, movie theatres, taking kids to indoor play gyms, family barbeques, close quarter birthday parties – everything started happening again. And then the flu hit. Not covid, but just the common flu. This August, our family fell ill for the first time in a year. It started with a cold and fever that our daughter brought home from school. It was quickly passed on to me, my husband and eventually to our infant. While all of us healed in a week, the infant’s congestion led to an ear infection which in turn lead to a course of antibiotics and an amoxicillin allergy. After a month of first contracting the flu, as things were finally starting to get better in our house, our daughter just recently brought another bug home from school. This one gave her a violent cold and we are all waiting our turn to catch the symptoms, despite taking all the measures to keep it from spreading.
Could the next bug that she catches and bring home be covid? And are we terrible parents for sending her to school when we could be keeping her home? We do not know. We also do not know how long covid will last, how many more times it will mutate, how dangerous and contagious the new variants will be and how the world will survive this pandemic. We do, however, know that losing years of in-person schooling at such a tender age could be very detrimental to our daughter’s development. The decision we made as a family is to keep sending her to school until we start seeing some serious red flags. We see some, but not enough to keep her home yet. There have been reports of Pfizer releasing a vaccine for kids aged 5-11 years by Halloween (October 31st). If that happens, we would be the first ones to get her vaccinated. A vaccine for infants is expected around Christmas. We are waiting with bated breath for that one too. As a pro-vaccine and pro-science family, we aren’t scared of vaccinating our littles. But do we hesitate to send an unvaccinated child to school every day? Honestly yes, we do. We take a calculated risk by sending her but pray to God daily that nothing bad happens.
We live in the fairly liberal state of California where wearing masks and getting vaccinated is the normal order of business. Some other conservative states have seen protests from parents against schools forcing kids to wear masks. The protests amuse me, because I see masks as the primary method of keeping our kids safe. The public schools remain open in full swing and the cases continue to go up. We hope to see a decline in transmission as the vaccine becomes largely available to the 5-11 year-old segment. But till then, we keep our fingers crossed. We never know which next infection that she brings home could turn out to be covid. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I wish parents nowhere had to make this difficult choice every day. But such is the reality of the world we live in and we are trying to make peace with it, because what other choice do we have, really?