Community effort can keep schools open during pandemic
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
By now, most young people in our community are back in school, in a classroom, at a desk. A whole spectrum of emotions — from joy to fear — comes with that depending on the circumstances, but the doors are once again open. It might be tempting to take this as a sign that we've finally got the COVID-19 pandemic on the run, but that all depends on where our community goes from here.
We've just recently seen the governor order bars in six Iowa counties to halt on-site consumption — again — after the state broke its all-time high for single-day confirmed case counts. Heck, the White House's own COVID task force just recently placed Dickinson County in the "Yellow Zone," meaning they recommend — among other things — wearing a mask outside the home, staying physically distant as much as possible, not visiting bars or nightclubs and limiting gymnasium capacities to 25 percent of what they normally are.
If nothing else, this should tell us just how much impact our personal decisions can have on others.
Like the students and staff in our K-12 schools.
Under the state's guidance, Iowa's school districts are able to shift away from the face-to-face learning they're doing now not only if a certain percent of the district is absent, but also if the viral spread within the community hits 15 percent or higher over a certain period of time. In fact, should it reach 20 percent spread within the community, schools have the option to go entirely online for a time.
Of course, recommendations from health officials would come into play as case counts rise, and Dickinson County does have some advantages going for it. Harris-Lake Park Superintendent Andy Irwin said during his district's Aug. 17 meeting that Dickinson County's community spread was at about 3.8 percent — so we've got a ways to go before we hit the 15 or 20 percent threshold. Plus, we're on the downhill side of the Lakes Area's summer tourist season, so there will be fewer and fewer people to help the virus bounce around in general.
That said, it's still here. We can't throw caution to the wind and resume the long-coveted state of normalcy just yet. We've got between 23 and 47 active cases here in the county, depending on who you ask — as I've previously reported, state and local officials are using two different sets of criteria to count recoveries. Either way, we haven't quite run COVID-19 out of Dickinson County just yet.
And here's where the rubber meets the road: even if we don't believe the virus is worthy of concern (and I realize some in our community don't), it could still end up closing our schools again. If we pull out all the stops and prematurely declare victory over this thing, we'll be giving it more avenues to spread, and too much spread will likely push our kids out of the classrooms and into their living rooms even if no one dies of the virus from here on out. Like I said, even if some believe this pandemic is a hoax perpetuated by Democrats for political gain, our state's Republican governor has closed some bars for the second time because of it, and the same can be done to schools if need be — the criteria is already in place.
The good news is that at least some of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the community — that is to say you and me.
I don't think anyone wants school to be confined indefinitely to the four corners of an electronic device, but keeping classes live and in person is going to require some continued effort on all our parts. Fortunately, the recommendations haven't changed much. And let's remember, if school teachers and staff can change their entire yearly routine to integrate some of those recommendations, the rest of us can make a few changes to daily life too.
True, that will mean sacrificing some things in the short-term. It might mean wearing an uncomfortable mask in a store. It might mean finding something else to do for weekend fun. For my own family, it's meant my dad hasn't seen his granddaughter in half a year, and he has never met her baby sister.
No good thing comes about without some measure of sacrifice. Soldiers sacrifice for civilians, parents sacrifice for children and communities are certainly capable of sacrificing for their schools. We won't be in this pandemic forever — and I know it feels like we already have been — but for the here and now, let's do what we can to give the virus as little traction as possible, even if for no other reason than to keep the kids in school.
Our students deserve normalcy as much as any of us — maybe more — and I myself am willing to give up a little of my own personal freedom to make sure it doesn't get taken away from them again this year. Frankly, I think they're worth that sort of sacrifice.