Dear Decaturish – What can we do to prevent COVID from disrupting our kids’ education this year?Victoria Duke, 8, wore her bear hunt mask with a mask before joining a social distance Cinco de Mayo parade in Oakhurst May 5. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Last Friday, I attended what felt like a super-spreader event: the Beacon Hill Middle School Meet and Greet. Hundreds of people crowded hallways and classrooms, and most were unmasked, including some teachers and administrators.
The new variants of COVID-19 are extremely transmissible, and although vaccination protects against severe illness or hospitalization, COVID is still a serious illness. I came down with it myself nearly six weeks ago and still have a cough, sleeping problems, and brain fog.
But I’m more concerned about the potential disruptions to our kids’ schooling and lives. If teachers get COVID, they will be forced by symptoms, policy, or ethics, to stay home and isolate, which means instability in the classroom. They may also suffer long-term effects which may affect their ability to teach. Fatigue can make it hard to carry on normal activities, and it can last months.
Kids who get COVID will also miss school, disrupting family routines and potentially infecting family members, which may include the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with pre-existing conditions or risk factors like asthma or diabetes. The consequences could be lethal.
What can we do?
The best thing would be to reimpose a mask mandate during times of high transmission, which is the level that DeKalb County is currently experiencing. The school board and superintendent of the City Schools of Decatur should strongly consider requiring masks for students, teachers, and staff until the community level of infection decreases. It’s true that Governor Kemp has signed a law allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates, but there’s nothing to prevent a district from imposing a mandate as policy. It’s better to have a few parents and kids opt out than to allow the disease to rampage unchecked. Decatur City Schools administrators have made clear that they will follow CDC recommendations, and the CDC recommends masking indoors in public when community levels are high, as they are currently.
At the very least, the district should do its utmost to encourage and incentivize mask wearing, via signage, communications, and constant exhortations. It is awkward to ask people to wear masks, and, alas, politically charged. I understand how difficult it is. I did not require my daughter to wear a mask last night because my wife and I didn’t want her to be the only child wearing a mask. As it turned out a good number of kids were wearing masks – I’d estimate about twenty-five percent, not enough to keep transmission rates low but enough to make mask wearing a viable social option.
In any case, I regret the decision not to ask her to mask, and I will strongly encourage mask wearing by my children. The more kids who are masked, the less likelihood of transmission and its concomitant disruptions to our children’s education.
I will also work with my family to conduct regular testing. Fortunately, in-home testing has never been easier. Health insurance providers are required now to reimburse the cost of eight in-home tests per month per household member. The reimbursement comes from your insurance company. It has been easy to order tests online and fill in the reimbursement form on my Aetna portal. A check comes in the mail ten days later. It’s also possible to get the tests directly from a pharmacy, in which case no up-front payment is required.
We want our children and grandchildren to thrive. We want school to go back to normal. We want to put the pandemic behind us. But the reality is that COVID-19 continues to evolve and infect, and it will keep on disrupting our children’s schooling unless precautions are taken.
So let’s keep ourselves and our kids masked as much as possible. Let’s obtain as many home tests as we need to keep tabs on infection. Let’s continue urging our leaders to do the right thing. And, when it comes time to vote, let’s choose candidates who support public health.
Father to Three CSD Students
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