Parents across the nation are adjusting to school being back in session during a pandemic. From converting dining rooms into virtual classrooms to totally derailing their careers, parents are finding ways to make it through this unprecedented crisis.
It turns out that there is yet another challenge to overcome: parents knowingly sending their COVID-19 positive children to school. Yes, it happened in Wisconsin this week.
Wisconsin public health officials have announced that a number of children were sent into schools after receiving positive COVID-19 tests. Kirsten Johnson, Washington-Ozaukee public health director, told NBC News “The health department has worked with school districts since spring to make a plan to reopen. Never in a million years did we imagine or think to account for parents deliberately sending their sick or symptomatic child to school.”
Two dozen schools are under investigation, and the story is developing.
This news is shocking and upsetting—and it’s really important to talk about for two reasons: First, the more obvious, is the apparent disregard for community and public health. The second is the blatant disregard for parents that has caused this to be an issue in the first place.
To be clear, knowingly exposing people to COVID-19 is unacceptable. This is a life-threatening illness that has killed over 200,000 people in the United States. In addition to the deaths and sickness, the pandemic has resulted in the loss of many millions of jobs, the closures of businesses, significant mental health ramifications, and many more serious problems.
Knowingly contributing to the continuation of this pandemic is unconscionable.
Pandemics are hard for thousands of reasons, but perhaps at the crux of it is figuring out how to support both the individual and the community. We all have our own very real needs, but we also need to account for the dire needs of the community—and often that involves a good deal of personal sacrifice. The battle over mandatory masks highlights how hard it can be for us to change our own behavior for the benefit of others.
Why is it so hard for our society to care about other people? We say we care—we do good deeds and we help people when we can—but only to a certain point. When thinking beyond ourselves starts to infringe our own personal comfort and needs, we just… stop. (See also ‘dismantling systemic racism.’)
Yes, I’ll bring you some soup if you are sick, but I am not willing to cancel my party in an effort to not make you sick in the first place.
Yes, I’ll send you a ‘virtual hug’ since things are so hard right now, but I am unable to keep my sick kid home from school to protect your child.
This is not a new problem—but this pandemic has exposed our selfishness for what it is. If we don’t take a very hard look at what we are seeing, we are not going to make it—as a society or as individuals.
But there is another problem at work, perhaps even bigger than our lack of public concern: The lack of concern for parents. If we lived in a society that truly cared about parents, parents would not feel as though they had no other choice but to send their COVID-19 positive children to school.
If we had policies at the national level that helped parents figure out the childcare dilemma, school wouldn’t be the only childcare option for so many families.
If employers provided real solutions and empathy for their employees, people wouldn’t have to choose daily between their job and their family—and in this case, the safety of their community.
If economic disparities weren’t what they are, and we had an effective way of financially supporting people who ran into hard times, and if health insurance wasn’t tied to our jobs, people wouldn’t feel so desperate to cling to unsupportive jobs at all costs.
We are failing families. And it’s costing us everything.
If you or your child is sick, please keep them home. Please. We need everyone to be in this fight or we will never end the pandemic. Every time we make a selfish choice, we prolong this misery. Keep your sick kid home.
And policymakers, leaders, employers: Please critically consider your treatment of parents. How are you making their lives easier, and how are you making them harder? How are you contributing to the fight against the pandemic and how are you forcing parents to make impossible choices that end up impacting all of us?
We need to do better. Now.