For the most part, every day Americans across the country have begun to get back to life as usual. Walking into grocery stores and other locations without being forced to wear a mask has allowed many of us to look at COVID-19 as a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, we are very much still being affected by the impact of this pandemic. While the total numbers have decreased since the height of the pandemic, hospitals and medical facilities are still strained due to the overwhelming number of people coming in for help.
Couple that with the recent respiratory viruses going around and the annual flu cases, and you have a recipe for disaster on public resources.
There is one area that we often overlook though – schools. I was recently talking with one of my friends and found out that he attended his daughter’s winter concert where the 4th grade was brought on stage to perform music on recorders.
While no one wants to sit in an audience and listen to recorders being played for 30 minutes, what surprised him the most was when they were all done. As kids left the risers on stage, they put their recorders into the same bucket to be used later.
This simple action opens up a lot of potential risks to a greater community. When you think about the things our children are exposed to in school systems, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we see an increase in colds and viruses among adults whenever summer vacation is over.
But maybe we have become a little too lax in recognizing potentially dangerous everyday activities.
Despite the rapid influx of vaccines, the adoption of new medications available in many areas, and the decrease in active cases, coronavirus is still far from gone. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to eradicate it, especially in underserved minority populations.
They’ve already been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. If we do not introduce safeguards in places like our school systems, libraries, and meeting spaces, we could see a resurgence in not just Covid, but any other medical disaster.
Impact on Minority Populations
One of the most devastating aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it disproportionately impacted those in minority and low-income areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carefully gathered data on how Covid had higher rates of infection and hospitalization in black, Spanish, and Native American populations compared to white populations. This resulted in these communities experiencing a much higher mortality rate as well.
This happened because of several well-known factors in the health industry. Systematic health disparities, higher rates of underlying health conditions that go unnoticed, and significantly more exposure to the virus due to jobs that require in-person interactions impacted these populations more.
We undervalued the people who did the daily work many of us didn’t want to do. And now, as we’re coming away from the pandemic and starting to breathe fresh air once again, we’re quickly forgetting the importance of keeping this population safe and secure.
This isn’t just to protect the essential services we take for granted, but to ensure a reduction in the spread if something like this were to happen again.
Community Action to Lower Risk
Constant vigilance does not mean always wearing a mask. There’s been plenty of evidence to show wearing a mask does reduce the spread of most airborne or common bugs that we would not want to catch. In almost every case, when a community had a higher rate of mask-wearing, they also had a lower rate of COVID-19.
This could be a placebo effect. It could be that these areas are more socially conscious of what they touch and utilize disinfecting more, meaning they had a greater result on reduction in COVID-19, but until those numbers have been verified, it makes sense to relate it to mask-wearing.
However, that doesn’t mean we need to force our kids in school to start wearing masks again. Like my friend during the recorder concert, there are simple steps that we should be taking to reduce the necessary treatment and strain on public resources like:
- Encourage frequent hand washing and provide hand sanitizers in multiple locations throughout the school.
- Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, desks, and chairs.
- Encourage students and staff to stay home if they are feeling ill or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for a virus or bacteria.
- Provide alternative options for activities that may increase the risk of transmission, such as using individual instruments instead of shared ones in music class.
- Implement a contact tracing program to quickly identify and isolate individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for a virus or bacteria.
- Educate students, teachers, and staff on the importance of following health and safety guidelines, including wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands regularly.
- Work with local health authorities and follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure that all protocols and procedures are in line with best practices.
Schools are critical venues for the transmission of all kinds of viruses, colds, bacteria, and so much more. Children are young people for a reason. They like to gather in groups, play games and have fun.
They don’t think about what could be on the door handle or whether it’s right to give a juice box to a friend at school lunch after they have taken a sip.
It’s not just for children’s sake. For every child, there are teachers, staff, administrators, school, bus, drivers, and so much more supporting their pathway through education.
That is a ton of adult services being offered to students that creates a web of the population potentially at risk for the spread of all kinds of nasty things.
We Need to Remain Vigilant to Health Concerns
I remember, in the beginning of COVID-19, seeing all the memes on social media related to the Spanish flu. And then, about three months into the pandemic, all the talking heads would come across every news station trying to give the pros and cons without fully being aware of the situation.
It probably took a good half year before people started to realize that we were not going to come out of this thing anytime soon.
Since then, there’s been a lot of browbeating and angry communication based on what we should have already learned from the global pandemic. Many of us in the population, including myself, have become frustrated with the lack of 20/20 hindsight.
This should not be a political argument. This should not be whether you were conservative or a liberal, or anything in between. It should be about safety. Especially the safety and security of our essential workers and children going to school.
When we were shut down, the financial strain placed on parents and common American workers escalated to the degree that had never been recorded before. This is because suddenly, we were tasked with educating and raising our children in a way that balanced the need to earn an income.
Staying vigilant now by maintaining simple common sense hygiene practices is the best way to ensure we avoid this in the future.
We don’t need to all have masks on, but we do need to wash our hands, not share drink containers, disinfect items that are going to be easily transmissible, and continue to fund our schools and institutions at high levels so they can utilize these practices.
This goes beyond our schools. Our post offices, community buildings, libraries, and town meeting halls should all be able to maintain the same cleanliness and hygiene today as during the pandemic.
We need to look up from the pain, sorrow, and loss of time during the pandemic and move forward with a massive amount of responsibility. We should take a moment to learn from our mistakes during the pandemic.
This doesn’t have to be a lesson in pointing fingers. In fact, we shouldn’t place blame on anyone now we are so close to being through it.
However, if we do not take this time to learn how to improve our systems so we can reduce any potential damage or future virus outbreak will have on a population, we underserve our greater purpose to live a rewarding quality of life.
Wrapping it Up
As a side note, I did check back with my friend. He called the school to ask about the recorder situation. He found out that those buckets used for storing the instruments were eventually filled with disinfectant. Kind of like the combs you get in an old barbershop.
I think the lesson here is to point out how a concerned parent saw something that could potentially lead to the outbreak and began to ask questions. It shows that we are capable of a greater awareness now that we have seen what can happen during a global pandemic.
Let’s take that awareness and turn in the actionable steps by staying vigilant and improving our society as a whole.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota