As we pass the half year mark of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, we should be working out the kinks of a nationwide quarantine – where we all come together to make sure that everyone has what they need like food and shelter, as well as all the other necessities that people need so that we can mitigate the damages wrought by the coronavirus. Having the added responsibility of seeing to the well-being of all of our children, schools especially should be taking the lessons they learned in the final months of the 2019-2020 school year to make sure that every student is getting the best possible education while on quarantine, as well as making sure that their social and emotional needs are also taken care of while we all await an end to quarantine.
Yet the official responses from Federal, state, and local institutions have done more to ensure the spread of a highly infectious disease than to make sure that the majority of the population can stay home on quarantine and that essential workers have every possible protection immediately available to them. One small but glaring example is the decision to conduct high school and middle school registrations for the upcoming school year on campuses instead of drive-through or even completely remotely by having textbooks delivered to students’ homes.
In south Orange County, where confirmed cases have been on the rise, both Saddleback Valley Unified and Capistrano Unified School Districts have chosen to conduct their fall registrations in person and on campus, however with social distancing measures in place, generally requiring masks and only allowing twenty-five students on campus at a time. Three of CUSD’s six high schools and two of their intermediate schools have opted for on campus registrations, while at least three of SVUSD’s four high schools (it is unclear from Mission Viejo High School’s website, although it seems to suggest that registration was conducted on campus) and one of their four intermediate schools have opted for on campus registration. While social distancing requirements will be enforced, it would be impossible to fully sanitize the campus after each cohort moved through because time simply would not allow for it (the standard seems to allow fifteen minutes for each cohort with no time between, i.e. twenty-five students at 9:00 am and the next twenty-five at 9:15, for example).
Any students who do become infected with the coronavirus as a result of their trip onto school campus to get their textbooks, and who will then transmit it to their families, will have become so only because their school chose to bring them on to campus rather than give them their books through a car window. It would be too much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that no child will become infected from being on campus, with twenty four other students, plus staff, plus inadequate sanitization given the size of the campuses and the lack of time between cohorts. And where there are infections, there are deaths – either of some of the children or of their family members. Deaths that will be the result of choices made by the schools’ administrators and condoned by the superintendent and other officials from the districts, i.e. the people tasked by our communities to look after our children and see to their education and well-being.
Furthermore, despite the push to reopen schools and the economy as fast and fool-hardily as possible, we do not even know the seasonality of Covid-19 because we do not even have one year’s worth of data on either rates of infection or the severity of cases as they relate to changes in the seasons. And by the beginning of next year we will only have the sample size of one year. Given this lack of data, we should be treating the pandemic as if it will continue to be severe because erring on the side of caution may bring about a great many inconveniences but erring on the side of reopening too soon and too extensively will bring about huge increases in preventable deaths and long term health problems.
There ought to be only one standard for reopening any non-essential parts of the county, state, and country as a whole, and that is whether there is a safe and effective vaccine that is distributed to the entire population. Maintaining quarantine should especially be the case when it comes to the safety and well-being of our children, or of any other vulnerable segments of the population. What is the use of living in a society if we do not look after one another? What is the future of a society that does not even try to take care of its children as best as it possibly can under whatever the circumstances may be? The US, California, and Orange County are all failing on both accounts, and like so many of our other problems – it simply does not have to be this way.
Nathaniel Murphy has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Irvine.
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