By Pauline Kerr
To send them back to school, or not to send them back to school, that is the question.
For the majority of people, the answer is, of course the kids are going back to school. Single parent families, and those whose incomes are modest, cannot afford the luxury of soul-searching over whether back-to-school cleaning and distancing protocols are enough to ensure their little ones’ safety, and weighing the mental health and social development risks against disease risks. Economic survival means working, and that means the kids will be in the classroom. Parents may be uncomfortable about the return to school, but there is no choice to be made.
All things have definitely not been equal with this pandemic. Those who live in single-family dwellings have been at less risk than those in higher density housing, with the greatest danger to people in nursing homes, group homes, homeless shelters, jails and other communal housing.
Those who have been able to do their jobs from home – often middle-management and administrative personnel – have been safer than those who have had no option but to leave their homes to go to work. At highest risk have been those unprotected by gloves, masks and other equipment. Early in the pandemic, hospital nurses were fully gowned and masked in situations where their lower-paid counterparts in long-term care facilities had nothing, one reason why nursing homes were hit so hard.
Neighbourhoods where people have had access to yards and hiking trails have been safer than those in crowded urban areas, one reason why numbers of cases of COVID-19 have remained relatively low in this area. We simply have more space; it is easier to social distance.
The simple fact is that the way we live put us among the fortunate few in the world who have a better chance than most of coming through the pandemic relatively unscathed.
Our spacious homes and apartments, even for those on the lower end of the income scale, places for kids to run around, a low enough population that major industrial entities who shifted to making and distributing PPE (thank you to all of them, including Bruce Power and partners!) were able to ensure easy access to it – have made us safer than many.
Our businesses and industries have been eager to pitch in where needed, and have done so efficiently and effectively; our vibrant volunteer sector has been busy helping out wherever possible; our political leaders, from municipal to federal, have been dedicated to making sure everyone gets through the pandemic as safely as possible; individuals have complied with measures geared to protecting essential workers, neighbours and entire communities – distancing, hand washing, masks.
This has not changed. We know the danger will continue until an effective vaccine is found. We also know numbers in this area continue to drop even as business gets back to something resembling normal.
As long as everyone remains focused on protecting everyone else, the chances of our kids staying safe as they return to school are pretty good. For those with medical conditions that require greater protection, or people who are concerned about the risks, there are remote learning opportunities in place. This includes measures to ensure all youngsters who need computers and internet to continue education at home, have it, no matter what their families’ income level.
This puts us in an enviable position compared to the rest of the world.
Is the situation perfect? Far from it. The realities of the economic chaos caused by COVID-19 have been blunted, not eliminated by government measures to replace income, foster innovation, and operate as safely as possible. Some will close their doors. Jobs will be lost.
COVID-19 deficits will be with us for years, meaning higher taxes and less money for infrastructure and social programs.
Living with constant danger takes a toll on mental health for all of us.
A lot of the return to school measures sound uncomfortably awkward and complicated, whether for in-class or remote learning. But our kids will be attending school in some form safely; that alone is a huge accomplishment in a pandemic.