I often ask my Facebook friends to share their questions with me, and I’m grateful for the generosity of their experiences that have been shared with me (and, by extension, with you) over the years. Last night, I posted a request for omicron-related challenges to write about. I was not prepared, though, to receive more than 40 heartfelt, heart-wrenching, anxiety-ridden questions about how to function right now.
The biggest category of questions was about sending kids back to school, and I’ve answered a combination of those below. While I hope this latest wave of the pandemic fades long before I’ve gotten through all the questions I received last night, I hope, in the meantime, I’m able to answer some of these in a realistic and reassuring way.
What should I do about kids and school when…
… my 3-year-old’s class is not at all reliable with masks?
… we have high-risk family members and could keep the kids at home without massive duress?
… my tweens are in school and other activities while I need to keep myself safe from COVID since I’m pregnant?
… my older kids are vaccinated, but my 3-year-old isn’t. Should I even worry at this point about him getting COVID since omicron seems milder anyway?
A Bunch of Worried Parents
Though each of your circumstances is different, at their core, you want to do what’s best for your family, and you want to keep your children safe. Of course you do. And still, I’m going to say this: Send your kids to school. All of you, with each of your own particular needs and concerns and circumstances. If school is open, and no one in your house is COVID-positive or needs to quarantine, you should send your kids to school.
I know it’s scary. Truly, I do. But I also remember the school year of 2020-2021, when my kids, and so many others, were home all year, and I know that that’s not a practical or sustainable model to go back to. Even if you’re thinking, “I’ll just keep them home for a couple of weeks until this surge passes,” or “just until numbers reach a certain threshold,” after everything we’ve all been through, you’re only inviting more decision-fatigue, and more fatigue-fatigue, by forcing yourself to decide when it’s “safe enough” on an individual level.
For kids over 5, get them vaccinated. For kids over 2, buy the highest quality masks you can get your hands on that your kids will tolerate, and then encourage and practice total mask compliance. Of course, also make sure all the adults in your household are vaccinated and boosted, and the higher quality masks thing really goes for them, too.
Beyond that, you cannot control every circumstance. It was true before 2020, and it’s been true ever since. You can make the best decisions possible given what’s in front of you, and, also, the bubble you’d have to live in to avoid omicron is both impractical and comes with its own set of health implications (strongly including mental health here).
And also, as I write this, I just found out that 77 Philly public schools are closed this week because of COVID-related staffing issues. I expect that number to grow. That doesn’t include private schools or day cares or preschools or schools in surrounding areas that are experiencing the same crises.
So, at the same time that I’m advocating to send healthy kids to open schools, have a plan for what to do when kids are sick or quarantined, or schools are closed and you don’t have the option. Figure out your contingency plans with work and child care, discuss with other families who have similar risk analyses how you might be able to help each other out in the coming weeks. Be prepared to pick kids up in the middle of the day, change plans at the last minute and generally be more flexible than humans are really designed to be.
There will likely be enough times when you don’t have a choice about whether or not to send your kids to school that, when you can, use those open days to your, and your kids’, full advantage.