Dear Miriam | Speaking Up About Face Shields

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Dear Miriam,

Some of my young relatives are starting school in a couple weeks. While their teachers may be wearing masks, kids at the school are only wearing face shields. Based on my understanding of the research, face shields don’t prevent the spread of COVID-19. I don’t think this is a safe situation for the kids, but I’m not sure if it’s my place to say anything. What do you think?

Signed,


Shielding My Relatives

Dear Shielding,

We are all facing dilemmas that we could never have imagined or predicted or anticipated how we would respond. Between social distancing practices, our relationships with restaurants and, yes, face-covering choices, aspects of life are being challenged that we previously took so much for granted that we didn’t even know they could be questioned.

My children are getting used to wearing masks. They don’t love it, but they understand why they’re doing it and they are able to comply. They also understand that when a person’s nose is showing, the mask is not effective. We have daily discussions about how it’s not our place to reprimand strangers on the street for their mask wearing.

On the flip side, if someone is too close to you, especially with improper mask wearing, you can say, “Please stay six feet from me,” or, “Please cover your nose with your mask.” This is a level of nuance and social contract that is difficult for every human to navigate right now because it is totally outside our frame of reference.

Based on the raging debates and wildly varying reopening plans, navigating these questions when it comes to schools is additionally impossibly challenging. Navigating these questions when it comes to other people’s schools and other people’s children is, unfortunately, probably outside the scope of what you should try to manage. Your relatives’ school may be making unsafe choices, but it’s too far removed from you to be the person without a mask coming up behind you in line.

While your read of the limitations of face shields matches mine, you don’t know what the range of discussion was within the school community before coming to this decision. You don’t know whether it varies by age or class, and you don’t know what other safety measures the school has put in place. After, potentially, months of discussion between school officials, parents and health experts, your concerns are probably irrelevant.

That said, if you think your relatives are unaware of the research around face shields, or you have strong reasons to believe the school did not do a thorough job of coming up with a safety plan, you could have one conversation with the parents involved. I would suggest something like, “The research shows that face shields don’t provide the same protection against COVID-19 as face masks. Have you discussed with the school administration whether they would consider requiring face masks for everyone at the school? I’d be happy to share an article with you that shows the statistics, if you’d like to share that with the administration.”

Then you need to drop it. It’s not your kids and it’s not your school and you’re not in the public health field. As frustrating and even terrifying as it might be to watch people you love making choices that you deem to be unsafe, you can’t control all of the COVID-19-related choices people are making in your family, in your community and beyond. You can choose not to socialize with this family given their school situation, and you can choose where you and your family go and what masks you wear, but that’s the limit of your control.

Perhaps, if decisions had been more standardized and science-based in the first place, we wouldn’t be having these heartbreaking conversations about school openings, but unfortunately, September is just around the corner, and most families of school-aged children feel like their only options are just a series of bad and worse. Don’t let your concerns make your relatives’ choices even more excruciating, as hard as they may be for you to accept.

Be well,

Miriam

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