LETTER: Response to Parents Afraid of Virus–We Need to Get Back on the Horse

The following letter was submitted in response to yesterday’s Letter to the Editor expressing concern about COVID-19-related school re-entry plans. That letter, “Join Me in Telling CT’s Education Commissioner, Full-Opening of School Puts Us All At Risk,” was the second most-read GMW story on Thursday, behind only the article on the re-entry plans being developed by Wilton Schools.

Dear Emily,

I appreciate the wholeheartedness with which you are sharing your concerns about the school system moving forward with a full reopening approach.

I would like to take a moment to go back to March when it was explained that quarantine was being implemented so as to not overwhelm our healthcare system and compromise our ability to care for the sick. It’s now July. Our healthcare system is not overburdened and, according to news reports that I read, the worst incidents of overburdened hospitals occurred in select areas of NYC. The Javits Center wasn’t used to full capacity and the Navy Ship returned to sea.

Somehow, the dialogue and goals have been moved from the point of something specific (i.e. healthcare capacity) to something more ambiguous like “keeping ourselves and others safe.” The timing of an effective and safe vaccine is also a highly questionable goal.

Keeping ourselves and others safe (something we all strive for) is unfortunately mostly a delusion. We cannot guarantee that our loved ones will not get cancer, get into a car accident, or fall and hit their head. Yes, we can work to minimize such risks by not smoking, obeying traffic laws, and walking mindfully. Even still, people who never smoked get lung cancer, safe drivers have died and careful people stumble. The human condition has limits. We all, everyone one of us, face mortality.

Many believe the distance and online learning precautions being promoted are simply virtues of an educated citizen and not a fear-based reaction. But when the goals were moved to the ambiguous, those became fear-based measures.

Choosing to continue to live in fear, work in fear, commune in fear, and educate in fear will have long term negative effects for years to come.

What I fear more than a virus is the loss of connectedness, community, education, and income for millions and millions of people.

What I regret most is the passivity in which we accepted mandates from school and government officials. We should have pushed harder for the reconvening of work and school back in the Spring.

Emily, there will always be viruses. If we don’t “get back on the horse,” so to speak, when will it be “safe enough?” If COVID dissipates what if there is an emergence of a new strain of SARS, Bird Flu, or Swine Flu? Or perhaps some unknown new virus we haven’t been exposed to yet?

Living in fear and isolation is the worst kind of bondage and we are choosing to imprison ourselves.

What if we instead promote agency and the power of choice? What if we choose to deal constructively with potential illness with exercise, good nutrition, minimal stress, and adequate sleep? That is the message of empowerment I wish we would all embrace and encourage.

I don’t know you, Emily. I wish I did. Sitting here writing to you I can envision you shaking your head feeling misunderstood, possibly frustrated because you were asking for a middle of the road approach. Maybe you are envisioning alternate school schedules with half the population of students in the classroom, alternating days in school, and online.

I still say then they are only getting half an education. They deserve the whole.

They deserve to be whole. To live with uncertainty and fear their entire lives while practicing the courage to learn, to love, to be, and to grow to their fullest potential. That’s what it means to be human–to live with the polarities and go on. Each day putting one foot in front of the other.

And if you are truly a “numbers person,” here are the numbers:  in CT the population is over 3.5 million and there have been 4,406 COVID fatalities. That’s 0.126%.*

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Ellis McNamara LCSW

*CORRECTION:  the original letter misstated the percentage of the CT population that have died, it is .126%, not .00126%.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your response. As an educator, I do agree that we cannot let fear control us. I miss my students and am really hoping schools and universities can re-open.

  2. “What I regret most is the passivity in which we accepted mandates from school and government officials. We should have pushed harder for the reconvening of work and school back in the Spring.”

    Shouldn’t it be obvious by now that the approach that you are/were advocating has been tried and failed miserably in states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, etc where, in fact, their hospitals ARE overrun. Why would you think the results would be any different in CT has we pushed back on public health mandates? I support your desire to get back to relative normalcy. Really, who doesn’t?

    What might have been constructive is to seek inspiration and information from other countries that have seen success mitigating COVID. The vast majority of developed countries are already back to relative normalcy. I can assure you that this is not because they just snapped their fingers and went back to normal. No. They took the health crisis seriously. Rallied around mitigation in a unified and consistent way and avoided needlessly irresponsible ideas that were likely to deepen the outbreak.

    It’s difficult to take your letter as anything more than an eloquently written partisan screed.

    • The thing is, the hospitals have not been overrun in Florida, Arizona and Texas and the case curves have begun to flatten. Unfortunately, California, which took aggressive mitigation measures, is still seeing its case counts rise.

      • Interesting.

        Actual headlines, and news stories about hospitals in Florida, and Texas, mention many are near, or at full capacity. In one Texas county, a hospital is having to make the choice who to send home to die.
        The United States Department of Defense is canvassing across Florida for potential contractors, and locations to set up emergency mobile hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.

      • No, you’ve missed the point. Whether or not hospitals have been “overrun” is subjective and a distraction (by the way, they have). The author of the letter, while including flowery language and a positive message, included a tell when she said that the public should have pushed back on public health guidance in the spring. I quoted that language at the top of my comment. Read it very carefully.

        There is a very good reason why the United States has completely failed to contain coronavirus while virtually every other developed country in the world has succeeded. Incidentally, those countries are back to essentially normal life today. The reason for OUR failure, is because there is a large portion of our population that refuses to follow basic public health measures and guidance. This is to the detriment of our entire society and it is the very reason why we are now stuck with an impossible quandary regarding school.

        Rejecting science based public health requirements, as the author advocated, would have been catastrophic. It makes it very difficult to take anything the author says seriously. We need to smarten up in this country and quickly.

  3. Jennifer, your thoughts on living in fear are appreciated. No one can live a productive life constantly fearing the unknown. We do need to get back to some sense of normalcy. But you have to ask yourself: why are people afraid?

    As an LCSW, no doubt you understand people. You of all people know that being afraid is an emotion that is triggered by a thought, which often can distort reality. In order to challenge that thought (“If we go back to school, my family may get COVID and a loved one may die.”), people need facts, information and some reassurance from trusted sources that effective measures have been put in place and that there is little reason to be afraid.

    Validating that it is okay to be afraid is a good place to start. But simply telling people not to be afraid won’t solve the problem. Instead of insisting on a result, ie GO BACK TO SCHOOL, how about advocating a plan: HERE’S HOW WE ALL SAFELY RETURN TO SCHOOL.

    People are afraid not because of the media or one party or person. People are afraid because there is no plan that helps them effectively addresses and challenges their thoughts about their fear. And, if there is anything we deserve, it is that.

  4. Jennifer,
    The best letter, recap and insights I have seen thus far. I agree 110% with your thoughts and perspective. In my opinion and without going into the details of numbers I wish we were getting a simple line graph charting dates, deaths, cases, # tested. I say that because it is a macro case number that keeps getting reported and not a full picture to see trends. I feel like we are watching a baseball game and only hits are being reported, not runs.

    To your point, in my little world I take some would think is an insane risk: I ride my bike to work. When I tell people this or they see me climbing Range Road or Kent Rd. they say I am insane and am going to get killed. I’ve been hearing it for 23 years – “Kevin, you are going to die….get run over…..get mowed over by a lunatic in a semi or Suburban”. I reply that my health is my wealth and riding to work is one of the steps I take to remain healthy. I take precautions – not ridding like an idiot, staying to the side, obeying traffic signs and signals, use front and rear lights even in daylight, wear a helmet and use common sense. If I die on my bike, it is what it is but it’s a risk I am comfortable with. I’d go crazy if I put my self in no-riding-quarantine.
    Let’s carry on with calculated and assumed risks then proceed accordingly.
    Thanks for your writing,
    Kevin

  5. Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the courageous stance of encouraging a return to school full time for our kids. I believe we are starting to feel more confident, not foolhardy, that a return to a “new normal” is possible. CT residents have made sacrifices, acted conscientiously, and will continue to do so as we navigate this new normal. The opinion letter which prompted your own letter rattled my confidence quite a bit, and I was thankful and relieved to read your reasoned response, which concluded with a reminder that numbers count most of all. (“In CT the population is over 3.5 million and there have been 4,406 COVID fatalities. That’s 0.126%”)

    I must say I was shocked to read that someone was considering private educators for their children to keep them safe from potential exposure to COVID. If that is an option for that resident, and they truly believe it is in their family’s best interest, then I 100% support them in that choice for their own family. (It’s actually none of my business.) However, I don’t think that is realistic for the majority of residents.

    It also made me feel bad for our educators, who, after hearing some time ago that parents wanted kids to return to school full time, began to move in good faith in the direction of making that happen. Now, educators are hearing from parents who are beginning to panic, and may begin to doubt that they are up to the task of implementing a safe return to school. I believe our educators can do it, and want to take this opportunity to express my confidence in them.

    If “we’re all in this together,” then let’s all work together to make it safe for our kids to get back to school full time. So educators I’m asking you: What do you need from us to help you as you face this formidable task?

    There are a lot of smart, energetic, creative people living in Wilton. If we can feed countless healthcare and other essential workers and their families, produce enough PPE for our hospitals, and perform other countless acts in which we rose to the occasion of getting through the height of the outbreak in CT, surely we can put our formidable energies toward helping our educators create and maintain a relatively safe back-to-school environment.

    So again, educators, please let us know: How can we help you? What do you need from the community to help you do what we are asking you to do? I believe Wilton can do it, and I’m willing to do my part. Do you need me to stand in a hallway and remind kids to put on their masks? Do you need me to walk around with hand sanitizer and make sure kids are keeping their hands clean? Do you need me to wipe down chairs and desks in between classes? Let me know, and if I can, I will. If we can, we should.

    If we can win WWII and save the world from Facism, surely we can help to open the four schools in our own back yard.

  6. Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the courageous stance of encouraging a return to school full time for our kids. I believe we are starting to feel more confident, not foolhardy, that a return to a “new normal” is possible. CT residents have made sacrifices, acted conscientiously, and will continue to do so as we navigate this new normal. The opinion letter which prompted your own letter rattled my confidence quite a bit, and I was thankful and relieved to read your reasoned response, which concluded with a reminder that numbers count most of all. (“In CT the population is over 3.5 million and there have been 4,406 COVID fatalities. That’s 0.126%”)

    I must say I was shocked to read that someone was considering private educators for their children to keep them safe from potential exposure to COVID. If that is an option for that resident, and they truly believe it is in their family’s best interest, then I 100% support them in that choice for their own family. (It’s actually none of my business.) However, I don’t think that is realistic for the majority of residents.

    It also made me feel bad for our educators, who, after hearing some time ago that parents wanted kids to return to school full time, began to move in good faith in the direction of making that happen. Now, educators are hearing from parents who are beginning to panic, and may begin to doubt that they are up to the task of implementing a safe return to school. I believe our educators can do it, and want to take this opportunity to express my confidence in them.

    Because “we’re all in this together,” let’s all work together to make it safe for our kids to get back to school full time. So educators I’m asking you: What do you need from us to help you as you face this formidable task?

    There are so many smart, energetic, creative people living in Wilton. If we can feed countless healthcare and other essential workers and their families, produce enough PPE for our hospitals, and perform other countless acts in which we rose to the occasion of getting through the height of the outbreak in CT, surely we can put our formidable energies toward helping our educators create and maintain a relatively safe back-to-school environment.

    So again, educators, please let us know: How can we help you? What do you need from the community to help you do what we are asking you to do? I believe Wilton can do it, and I’m willing to do my part. Do you need me to stand in a hallway and remind kids to put on their masks? Do you need me to walk around with hand sanitizer and make sure kids are keeping their hands clean? Do you need me to wipe down chairs and desks in between classes? Let me know, and if I can, I will. If we can, we should.

    If we can win WWII and save the world from Facism, surely we can help to open the four schools in our own back yard.
    Reply

  7. Thanks for advocating for children being put at risk with a serious illness, and their potentially harming everyone they might come in contact with, including grocery store shoppers, and anyone entering CVS.

  8. There was no mention of the large number of people who tested positive for Covid in CT. The same people who could suffer debilitating effects over the long term. The first person in the state diagnosed with the disease lives in town, and may still be recovering. And why is there no mention that the total number of cases, and deaths may be vastly undercounted?

    No doubt the bus drivers, custodians, staff/security, school nurses, and teachers who will be exposed to the respiratory disease for hours at a time have given it more thought.

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