One week ago I would have called myself a skeptic. Confused by the mass panic caused by the media and incessant false reporting over COVID-19, aka Coronavirus. Annoyed by the masses rushing out to buy Costco out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Rolling my eyes at all the memes. SO MANY MEMES.
The lack of toilet paper available for purchase is still puzzling, but given the changes happening in the world around us, I am no longer a skeptic. I say I am now cautious.
Entire countries have shut down, professional sports leagues have canceled seasons, institutions of higher education are moving classes online. The information available changes hourly.
I work in a place of higher learning which happens to also be home to a world-class medical institution. My inbox has received roughly three communications per day from my employer and other associated networks I work closely with to do my job.
Then there is the more concerning piece of the puzzle: my children. Although I haven’t seen any scientific data to specifically make this a fact, it appears to me that children are not a popular demographic among the infected. Schools and childcare centers are doing their very best to stay vigilant in the fight against germs.
Our teachers are begging for Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer, field trips and extracurriculars are being canceled, and kids who have been staying home for the slightest fever are under intense scrutiny.
I do not want to jump to any conclusions, but I have changed my attitude from skeptical to cautious. In real-time, there are some major factors in play that impact me directly.
I assume I am not the only one looking beyond the short term of a day or two but looking ahead a month or two and wondering what life might be like. I’ve never lived during the time of a pandemic, let alone had children to keep safe.
Here are my key points of impact as a working parent with two children in school.
1. The unknowns of the virus
The greatest risk for infection comes before you show any symptoms. In the state of Washington, one of the first cases in the U.S., initial reports showed only three active diagnoses of the virus with one death. According to an article published by Medium, a 33% mortality rate is shocking; but it is now clear that based on the known information, that same number of diagnoses should have been closer to 1,600 infections. Only the three were confirmed because they showed symptoms and sought treatment.
In Alabama, the reported number of cases is still zero. But if you read the small print, Alabama can’t have a diagnosis because the state does not have the proper testing kits. As is the same in many other areas of the country.
Flu A and B have been going around schools like wildfire. It’s common this time of year and we all do our best to promote healthy habits among the kids like hand washing and sanitizing. Coronavirus symptoms appear identical, so where do you draw the line between giving some Children’s Tylenol and hoping it goes away on its own and a full-on panic and quarantine?
2. School changes
Last night following dinner, my husband and I both checked our phones to see three alerts from the city schools. A call, a voicemail and a text asking for parents to take prompt action to read important information. Nothing makes my heart stop like seeing the alerts from the school.
I know schools are doing their absolute best with the information they have available. But what happens if schools choose preventative measures similar to some colleges and universities? If area schools extend a spring break or cancel classes, what will I do with my children? It doesn’t matter if that decision comes on Friday or three weeks from now.
Closing schools impacts parents who have inflexible jobs. It also impacts students who rely on meals and other services schools provide to them on a daily basis. I would like to think my job will be flexible should it come to that, but I can’t assume that will be true.
What about parents of college students who are being asked to leave their campus residence halls when their campus closes in a week or two?
3. Travel plans
One decision we need to make sooner rather than later for our family is our spring break travel plans. While we are not flying, we do have plans to visit a certain mega-tourist destination in Florida. Public gatherings of all sizes are being canceled by the minute, so do we want to expose our family to what could be the highest risk situation of them all?
I can tell you right now with one hundred percent certainty that I will not allow my kids to set foot inside a Chick-fil-A play land during flu season. But I am torn about traveling to Disney World with a pandemic looming.
My employer has proactively banned all international travel and severely limited domestic travel for professional purposes. Now that does not have any impact on personal travel, and I could choose to pay my own way for a business trip if I felt it necessary.
But here is where the rapid pace of information and decision making gets stressful. Things are happening around us so fast that airlines, hotels, and even entire areas (see Italy) could change during the course of a day.
Cruises and all-inclusive resorts in tropical climates are popular spring break destinations, but as this grows, so does the likelihood of getting stranded for an extended period of time.
Now, normally I’m not one to complain about a few extra days of sun, but the types of quarantine shown right now on the news and social media definitely don’t look like my idea of a good time.
It’s all those unknowns that make decision making confusing and paralyzing. So what’s a busy mom with a busy family to do?
Dos and Do Nots
What I know I won’t do is panic. I’m not as skeptical, but it also doesn’t make me believe everything I see or hear in the media. I am committed to being more aware of what is happening locally and the steps I can take to abide by the recommendations of trusted healthcare providers.
I am also proactively having conversations about future happenings on our schedule. Not just travel out of state but also things like community events, sports activities, and other community gatherings we normally attend.
As a family, I want us to pay closer attention to our bodies. It is not uncommon for me to get run-down this time of year or one of the girls to catch a cold at the change in the season. I don’t want to dismiss little things like a sore throat or elevated temperature. Where we might previously “let it run its course” we will evaluate a little more carefully.
I’m already following the kids with disinfectant wipes everywhere they go, so they better get used to it. I have heard reports that range from the worst is yet to come to the virus will soon peak and disappear. I can’t tell anyone what to believe because I just don’t know myself.
All I do know is we need to be cautious and forward-thinking. Find sources to trust and follow their lead to protect ourselves and our loved ones.