Wear a mask to protect the grandparents living with the classmate who sits next to you, who are elderly and the vaccine may not fully protect. Wear a mask to protect the young sibling of the friend that you sit with on the bus, who is too young to be vaccinated. Wear a mask to protect the parent of your teammate, who is going through chemo and not strong enough to fight off COVID. Wear a mask to protect your best friend who is fighting an invisible disease that compromises their immune system.
With all of the arguing that is going on among the parents in our community about masking being a “personal choice”, we wonder how many kids have been asked to wear a mask to protect their friends and the vulnerable family members of their friends.
One of the first lessons that we teach our children is to be kind to others, “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”, share, hold the door open for others, the list of kindnesses we encourage goes on and on. There is so much talk about community togetherness, especially in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Ida, but when it comes to masking, that seems to go out the window. Suddenly, some of us are much more concerned about our own personal conveniences than in protecting our vulnerable community members.
New guidelines…A Bare Minimum
At the last school board meeting, Dr. Lonardi unveiled some confusing new guidance from the CDC and the Chester County Department of Health. Epidemiologists and medical professionals are torn with regard to these new guidelines, since they came not from new science but from a need to balance the existing science with keeping our country running, and they depend heavily on people strictly adhering to mask policies and not returning to school while symptomatic. We also know that 20-40% of people will still be contagious after five days, and without requiring a negative test, we have no idea if we are sending our kids back to school still able to infect their friends. We also know that masking and testing are things that our families have trouble doing, either because they don’t want to or because they can’t find a test. Nonetheless, our schools are relaxing their policies, and it will be up to us (as it always really has been) to make sure that we are doing the best we can. For some of us, that may mean deciding to keep our children out for more than the required five days to be a little extra cautious. For others, that may mean testing our kids before sending them back—as recommended—even though it’s not required.
The most disturbing part about the rules being relaxed to a bare minimum is that there have always been parents who lie and cheat the system, whether out of desperation to return to work or because they just don’t believe that COVID poses a real danger to our community. And with very little being done to accommodate kids who have to be out of school, some are really feeling the pressure to return to school as soon as possible, even if it means lying to do so. Since Omicron is so highly contagious, it’s a recipe for higher numbers on top of higher numbers. Even with more people being vaccinated, this is placing a huge burden on our local healthcare systems and our national supply chain, and it’s disrupting our children’s educations in a big way. Teachers, staff, and bus drivers are absent and lunch items are running out. Supermarket shelves are getting more and more bare. Pharmacies are unable to fill prescriptions. Even Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A had to temporarily close (God forbid!!)
What do the new guidelines say?
To understand what to do as a close contact, we need to first understand what the CDC is now defining as “vaccinated”. Basically, if you were vaccinated over a certain time ago and you have not received a booster, your immunity has waned and you are treated as if you were never vaccinated. See image at right for specifics.
Now that we understand what vaccinated means, here is what you need to do if your child is identified as a close contact.
Last, how do these new rules impact isolation periods when your child has tested positive? Vaccination status does NOT make a difference if they are positive. However, the isolation period has been reduced to five days unless their symptoms persist/get worse, and tests are no longer required to return.
A student should never be in the building with symptoms unless they have tested negative or they have passed the five day isolation period and their symptoms are close to being resolved. If they have a fever, they should be staying home until it is gone for 24 hours without using over the counter medications. This is common courtesy in a non-pandemic year, and there is no reason to get more relaxed about it now.
Call to Action: How can we help?
We are asking our parent base to help out in the following ways:
- Email Dr. Lonardi and the board and ask them to turn on passive camera access or make virtual lessons available IMMEDIATELY to students who are out because of COVID. This will help our kids stay caught up and ease some of their anxiety.
- Encourage your children to wear their masks properly and have them encourage their friends to do the same. It is more important than ever to work together here.
- Empower your children to speak to their teachers if they are feeling uncomfortable. Some children are making games out of not wearing their masks when they think no one is looking. They do not understand the risk that they are placing their friends and family members at, and many students are not ok with this. They should be speaking to their teachers about this and coming up with ways to be discreetly separated from those kids if need be.
- Discuss lunchtime with your kids’ teachers when they return to school after being out with COVID. This is still a gray area that we are working on ironing out. If a student needs to be fully masked for five days…that makes lunch complicated. If you want for your student to eat at a distance from others, they should be allowed to.
- Drive your students if you can in order to keep them off the crowded buses. There is a bus driver shortage and this will be appreciated by the school district. Form a carpool if you can to make it easier on yourself (just make sure to discuss with the others how you feel about masks in the car).
- Please follow the guidelines carefully, and keep your children home for as long as you think is necessary. If you want to keep them home for 7 days instead of five, know that you have the right to do so.
If you are concerned about the number of cases in your child’s school, or you have vulnerable people members at home, please know that you are not alone and that you have the right to keep your student home. The school district will work with you to make sure that they are caught up when they get back. It is not worth the anxiety over getting someone sick to worry about whether an absence is excused or unexcused. Please reach out to us if you’d like to be part of our parent advocacy group and discuss with the school district how we can get through this together.