At least we know more about COVID-19 now than we did in March

Mike Jiggens

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The great experiment is underway – that is, sending our kids back to school. All of us – most notably parents and teachers – are holding our breath that it works out without incident.

Provinces have already reported outbreaks in their schools, just as we feared. Is this the impetus for another shortened school year?

We are entering a critical stage amid this COVID-19 pandemic as talk within the medical community about a potential second wave is making the news again, and the reopening of schools might simply be adding fuel to the fire. The official start to the fall season is just around the corner, and cold and flu season won’t be far behind, just to add some additional spice to things.

With a second wave may come a second lockdown. The one thing we have in our favour this time around is a much better understanding of the coronavirus and what is working and what isn’t. We’ve known all along that physical distancing, hand washing and sanitizing commonly touched surfaces are measures that are working to prevent the spread. Since the initial lockdown in March, we’ve also learned that when restrictions are loosened that many people are taking a mile when given an inch. Social gatherings that have exceeded recommended numbers with a complete disregard for anyone’s personal safety have largely contributed to the recent spikes in positive cases in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

Mandatory mask-wearing – although not the be-all and end-all in the fight against COVID-19 – is at least contributing to a reduction in droplet transmission. In hindsight, this measure should have been invoked last March.

Seven months and counting into the pandemic, we’ve turned our children into “crash test dummies” to see if efforts to safely reopen schools is going to work or if this is going to be the catalyst for a second wave. Provincial governments have been placed between a rock and hard place in their decisions to reopen schools that had been shut down since the March break began. Children have been out of school for far too long and there is a need to return to the classroom, government officials will argue. It is also true that virtual learning just doesn’t cut it. Without the personal one-on-one interaction with a professional teacher, many students are going to be left behind if they’re not sitting in a classroom.

It’s the sitting in a classroom, however, that poses the greatest risk. There really is no easy way around this dilemma that is satisfactory to everyone. It’s a gamble, for sure, and the naysayers out there are already predicting schools will be shut down again within the first month. If it comes to that, a domino effect will be created. Children may find their mental health tasked and parents will be forced to once again have to juggle their need to work remotely while providing round-the-clock supervision of their young charges.

It’s the understatement of the century to say that 2020 has been a challenging year so far. It’s been a horrid year in general terms. And things are apt to get worse before they get better if we’re not careful. We’re starting to clue in to just how serious this pandemic really is and we’ve largely made honest strides to do our part. It’s time, though, that we move it up from the baby steps we’ve been taking to bigger leaps if we ever want to return to a “normal” world again anytime soon.

None of us should be accepting this as the “new normal.” If anything, we should be recognizing this as a “temporary normal” with the goal being to return to the “old normal.” That’s not going to happen anytime soon, though, unless we all smarten up and adopt a little common sense to hasten the process.

 

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