Yesterday, I found myself on the Department of Education website, researching the air filtration system in my kids’ elementary school. (Fun fact: You can see how many air vents are in any NYC public school room!) It’s one week until the start of school, and I should be worrying about supply lists or teacher assignments or my daughter’s increasing inability to be away from me for more than 30 seconds. But instead, I’m worried that a class of first graders is going to contract the remarkably contagious Delta variant due to shoddy airflow.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Our school district has both a mask and staff vaccination mandate in place. Our school can distance all children at three feet, and has committed to serving lunch outdoors, unless it’s like monsooning…which might happen, because Climate Crisis! By all accounts, they are doing everything within their ability to combat in-school transmission.
And while I’m definitely scared of my kids getting Covid (I scream “pull up your mask” more often than “get your hands out of your pants” these days), I also take comfort in the fact that, thanks to the above safety precautions, the odds are rare that it would be truly catastrophic; While cases among kids are rising, as of this writing children account for only 3 to 4 percent of Covid hospitalizations. Moreover, my husband and I are vaccinated. All adults in our extended family are vaccinated. We have good healthcare and flexible jobs and a large enough home that, should we need to, we could quarantine somebody in a room watching Vivo on repeat.
But, while the odds of our kids becoming seriously sick are low, the odds of our lives being upended are high. To put a finer point on it: I’m worried about logistics. I’m worried about a positive case in one kid’s room that causes the whole the class to go remote for two weeks. (In which case…do we continue to send our other child to school? And which parent stops working in order to proctor remote reading drills? My husband, who has fewer meetings? Or me, who has a greater understanding of the “Fundations” methodology?) I’m worried about an exposure that has us panicking and testing and missing a week of school. I’m worried about a playdate invite that seems too good to pass up. I’m worried that if my cousin and her kids visit next month, I’m putting the whole elementary school at risk.
These are obviously privileged problems to have. The health risks and outcomes for communities of color, immunocompromised people and those without insurance pose much, much greater threats. But they are also ones that parents shouldn’t have to navigate alone. We should have better guidance for how long to quarantine and then test after an exposure. (Seven days? 10? 14? Does it matter if the exposure was outside?) There should be clearer rules about when it is and isn’t OK to send your kid in with the sniffles. (If you’ve ever lied on the daily health form…you’re in good company.) And we should have local governments that prioritize children’s safety over indoor dining and the demands of anti-maskers.
Don’t get me wrong: Logistics are not, by any stretch, the worst thing about this pandemic. But for just about any family I’ve met, they are a major part of the picture. As Emily Oster says in her new book, The Family Firm, “logistical details matter, because if you fail to think about logistics holistically, you could find yourself almost accidentally in a very different place than you imagined.” In other words, the devil’s in the details. And it’s OK if the details of Fall 2021 are driving you to your breaking point.