The School World During the Covid-19 Pandemic

My daughter, Joni, is principal of a large suburban middle school.  Here is her Feb 6 note about how it is a her school during this year of Covid-19.  Her sister, my daughter, 45, has recently been diagnosed as positive for Covid-19.

“[Our sister/daughter] continues to only have mild symptoms, but my personal school experiences with this virus keeps me cautiously optimistic. I’m the one that has to send out “the letter” to and follow up with families and staff when there’s been an exposure, so I know there is no “normal” in who will be just fine , who develops symptoms or their severity, who will be hospitalized, and who will live. I’ve had no reported student or staff deaths at my school of just about 1100, but there have been many grandparents and extended family members and a few parents and siblings who have passed. I manage those communications as well, as no one need to get an attendance call or “Joey hasn’t been doing his work” call when they’re dealing a health crisis or planning a funeral.

From the school perspective, there are so many changes. Classroom and bus seating charts and tracking attendance has become a non-negotiable as we have to know who gets a high-risk exposure (= quarantine and get a test) letter vs. low-risk exposure (= monitor for symptoms but can still attend work/school) letter and don’t miss someone.  We seem to have the system down now which is helpful as we plan to reopen with a hybrid model on 2/16. Basically we’ll be at 50% capacity with teachers supporting students in person and from home.

The stress is palpable among my staff, and I am doing my best to shield them from the “not good enough” message that plays in the background all the time.  My focus has definitely shifted from providing instructional leadership to anticipating and managing the day to day. Everyone is tired of “this”, and “this” is different for everyone. I’m reminded of that  daily.

If you stuck all the way to the end of my reply, I’m sorry for the unrequested verbal vomit and thank you for listening. I promise future replies will focus on Heather’s Heath (or at least stick to the point!) My best to you all!”

My response (Dad): For sure, try not to consider your thoughts/feelings to be “verbal vomit”!

It is actually very important for us, and for you, to know your facts/feelings “from the trenches”.  I think of the war analogy quite often, and your profession, like medical, like the people in grocery stores, etc., are very much like front-line combat troops in this war, who don’t know when/where/how the ‘bullet’ [may] come to kill them.

America’s deadliest war by far was the America’s Civil War.

In real general terms, just a very fast fact check on the internet, here’s some very rough data which I think is pretty close to accurate…as I say a “very fast” fact check.
Civil War deaths 620,000.  U.S. population then was about 30 million (four years data)
World War II deaths  407,000. U.S. population was about 130-140 million, about 40% of present population (Deaths occurred over four years of war).
Covid-19 U.S. deaths to date about 460,000.  U.S. population 330,000,000 (and this is only one year data)
Deaths in war traditionally have been the young men – kids in their teens and 20s.  Defining exact cause of death in war is not always easy.   For instance, a good share of the Civil War deaths were civilian and from things like untreatable infections and diseases attributable to the war.  Others can argue this.
The Covid-19 demographic  of death data is different as we all know.  We know who has died, and how, and from what.
It’s no fun to be a “combat death” in the days of Covid-19.  The death to population ratio from Covid is fast approaching WWII levels.  This is no small time deal.  And this in just a single year, while WWII was four years, 1942-45; the Civil War 1861-65.
So, try to keep it in perspective.  Hopefully, the vaccinations will begin to slow the rate of dying – we don’t know that yet.  But what I just wrote I think about every time I go in the post office, a grocery store, the drug store, my coffee shop…and think of the people at the cash register, etc.  My encounter with them is a matter of seconds; they have hundreds of these encounters every day.
If you have an interest, a few years ago [grandson] Spencer developed an interest in history, and as part of some assignment he asked me something about war.  I put together a single sheet for him, which is here: War Deaths U.S.002.  He and his teacher found it interesting.
Have a good day, and days.  We love you all.  Dad.
Final word: I noted to a friend Sunday that the need to communicate about Covid-19 reminds me of the need to communicate after 9-11-01.  We were all confused, angry and needed to talk.  In my garage box of old newspapers I took the below one out this morning, just to remind everyone, we were there, and we are again.  The death toll for 9-11-01: 2996, 372 who were not U.S. citizens.
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