My family and I were out of town when we drove past a farmer’s market.
“Why aren’t they wearing masks?” asked our 7-year-old from the backseat. The novel coronavirus has left an indelible mark on our daughter’s life. She hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom since March, and though it is summer vacation right now, her mother and father just stopped deliberating over whether or not she’ll walk inside of one this fall.
We had placed her in daycare over the past several weeks. Our work schedules make it difficult to juggle office obligations with managing the needs of a child. Difficult as it is, my wife and I did it over the last four months of the previous school year. After some debate, and the assurance of a reduced population, we opted to send her to daycare so she could socialize with other kids. Every day we dropped her off, she slipped on her mask before walking out of the car. She understands its importance. It’s drilled into her before we walk out of the house. So, the scene of unveiled market vendors genuinely confused her. It wasn’t as shocking to my wife and I.
The topic of masks continues to be a political debate enveloped by the Constitution. While our daughter watches Pokémon, my wife and I see the videos of red-faced adults acting badly as they scream their declaration of patriotism at a teenaged store clerk pulling in minimum wage. The most recent of such videos was an unmasked woman standing on a treadmill at Planet Fitness. The aspiring Erin Brockovich ignored the signs requiring her to wear a mask, and proceeded to argue with an exasperated manager who looked confused over why she was recording it all. She had posted the exchange along with her essay, to which she linked to her local police department and to OSHA. The fact that’s glossed over by this present-day Devil and Daniel Webster is that she stands on private property. Planet Fitness, Walmart, Price Chopper — are private businesses and those who walk in are guests. It shouldn’t have to be explained that you follow the rules or you get kicked out. Even barflies appreciate this dynamic, as they know if they wise off, they’ll be escorted out the door by a large man with an ironic name.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo greenlighted schools to reopen this fall, raising the flag on a race that has gathered in place these summer months. District administrators have labored over expectations and logistical strategies to shape a new norm in local schools. In many of those weeks, districts have turned to one another with the bewildered look of AP English students presented with a pop quiz. What would be required of them by the governor’s office and state health department was mostly kept in the dark. Now that expectations are clearer, the steps to take are still not apparent should kids or teachers become sick. That was evident as districts continued to ask questions over COVID testing and contact tracing for students and staff.
District administrators have undertaken the herculean task of getting us this far. And, while parents like me weigh the pros and cons of sending our children to school, superintendents are responsible for thousands. The decision to reopen schools during a pandemic falls upon people who likely never imagined such a scenario, and the repercussions from such a choice impacts communities. The weight of events surrounding our schools can not be overstated. And, yet, when they find themselves following Albany’s guidance, people still will get sick. As what happened in Westchester County. Despite reduced classrooms, a Westchester County school closed its doors three weeks into its summer program after three teachers and three students fell ill. In that situation, there were questions over testing and contact tracing, too.
Despite the best efforts of our local school administrators, whose actions have earned my respect over the past several months, my wife and I are keeping our child home to learn remotely. It is not because we don’t trust the schools to do the right thing. It’s not that we lack confidence in the state’s ability to guide them into the right direction as September approaches. It’s that we can trust our child to do the right thing, but lack the faith in other parents to follow through in what needs to be done.
Our office went through a scare last week. One of our own was exposed to COVID. According to contact tracing, someone in our employee’s family contracted the virus at work. The family member wore a mask. The customers around him often did not. The employer did not enforce state mandates because it’s been common for retail customers to threaten employees when confronted for not wearing them. Somewhere, one patriot’s right to go unmasked was greater than someone else’s right to live. It’s no secret why this virus has grown so rampant in this country. Collectively, we’ve proven to be pretty stupid.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
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