The most common question Dr Abdu Sharkawy tackled before summer began was perhaps “When is this going to be over?” “This” meant the global pandemic that nobody expected to happen about 12 months ago when people planned weddings, conferences, vacations, and ordinary life routines. While caught seemingly off guard by a microbial threat that is deeply insidious, pervasive and intrusive, people as the global community have gone through several stages. Shock and disbelief quickly followed dismissiveness, and as the death counts increase, in the end, the only news was COVID-19. When it became abundantly clear that this wasn’t just a transient syndromic phenomenon, fear, anger, anxiety, and helplessness appeared.
He noted that in the long run, there was acceptance, and people no longer ask “When will it be over?” to “How do we live with this?” When it comes to preventing the transmission of infectious diseases, the importance of this question is the persistent need to re-examine our daily lives and address the inherent risk we have taken too lightly. There is an audit from the pandemic of each human interaction, from the most basic form of greeting to the operation of public institutions.
For any parent of kids under the age of 18, they have found themselves changing the discourse from “When” to “How,” since few issues have demanded more attention and triggered more angst than going back to school.
Dr Abdu can attest to his miserably insufficient ability to teach his seven-year-old son for more than 30 minutes without risking the specific loss of sanity, competing for the same screen and in potentially questionable states of attire. He jokingly tells his wife how he misses the more predictable stress of the semi-controlled chaos of an ICU ward or a crowded ER. Abdi argues that it’s entirely possible people would be resorting to primal grunts and hand gestures by now, and there is the intellectual capacity of household dwindling by the day, had it not been for his wife’s other-worldly patience, tirelessness, and dedication to their DNA. Organic human communication that promotes healthy social engagement from both peers and teachers is superior that a curriculum delivered through WiFi and dependent on bandwidth.
Even when people are barely old enough to spell Zoom, virtual playdates fall dreadfully short in terms of offering the type of social bonding experiences that allow friendships to grow and thrive. To sum up, sometime in the dog days of June, Abdi and his wife believed that they would do whatever made the most sense to get their three boys, aged four, seven and nine, back to some semblance of proper education. Abdi would go back to being a dad from the comfortable confines of the ER and ICU while his wife would no longer be the Swiss Army Mom. Abdi notes that sepsis was a piece of cake by comparison.
CONSIDERING SEVERAL FACTORS
They weighed several factors in determining their decision. This included the readiness of every school environment for the inevitability of worsening viral transmission within the community and outbreaks, something he predicted with some certainty to happen with the reopening. They also deliberated on the importance of the makeup of their own household. There wanted to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 to his mother-in-law, who is over the age of 70. Their seven and nine-year-olds go to a local private school though Dr Abdi never attended anything but public education in his life. Early in his preschool years, their oldest child showed signs of unique learning needs that have fortunately been supported well with the additional attention he now receives.
The physical layout of the classrooms was still important in their evaluation, and they discussed in turn with the school’s administration. They were reassured that Plexi-shield would be in place in all office and reception areas and that a policy of universal masking would apply to everyone as they were cognizant of the viral transmission. They took some comfort in the commitment to utilizing outdoor learning spaces and the investment in updated HVAC systems to optimize ventilation while recognizing the inherent challenges of distancing within the classroom. They also felt that priority was being given to organizing a thoughtful strategy for drop-off and pick-up routines. In the end, they were happy to identify an apparent commitment to hand hygiene with sanitizing stations.
WEIGHING BENEFITS AGAINST RISK
Their four-year-old preschool contains children between the ages of three and six in a single classroom. Abdi thanked the school’s administration for their genuine efforts in safeguarding against potential transmission. The decision to withdraw their son was easy after weighing the benefits to their son against the risks to their household. Abdi stated that the danger of his mother-in-law’s health and safety being seriously compromised dramatically outweighs the loss of formal education for a four-year-old for potentially less than a year. Abdi acknowledged that he has the financial means, the knowledge and advocacy tools, and the flexibility to decide whether to withhold his children, possibly all of them, from attending school.
He added that it’s an awful situation that begs needed attention to resources and equity when one loses his job and not able to afford rent or food versus sending the kids to school. Abdi noted that people ought to recognize that when they send their kids back to school, they do so with the burden of responsibility towards others, not so fortunate. So that COVID-19 doesn’t find its way into the classroom either, there are discipline, empathy and a sincere, committed sense of adherence to public health measures. Sharkawy rated riding to school in an Uber or Lyft as low. He rated carpooling with others as medium-high and biking with family members as a medium.