COVID Update #7

This past Sunday night, before the kids started school for the year on Monday, I got word that there had already been a case of COVID among the staff of my son’s school. Similar news from my daughter’s school landed on Monday. This isn’t surprising, really, but it’s discouraging. Our school system provided a pretty crummy set of options for returning to school — either virtual with the possibility (and, it turns out, reality) of limited access to certain classes or in-person with the associated COVID risks. Other school systems have taken what seem more sensible approaches to me, with in-person and virtual school staggered to reduce in-person class sizes. I really don’t understand why we didn’t do something similar. I wrote a fair few emails to school officials late in the summer, to no avail. We opted for in-person schooling, hoping sense would prevail and that school would be shifted to virtual. So now my kids are in the building; at least they have their correct classes. It certainly feels like a bit of a Sophie’s choice.

I get that none of this is easy for school administrators. Federal funding has been tied to in-person attendance, for example. Well, schools are already under-funded. I imagine it’s a bit of a Sophie’s choice for administrators who wish to provide education but have their own options limited. Still, it’s frustrating, and I am consistently baffled by some of the magical thinking and lack of basic human decency and any sense of equity in our government at all levels (which is not to say by all individuals in those governments).

COVID numbers in Knoxville had begun to look better in the week or two leading up to school. I had seen a lot more people with masks on out in public. I think it’s finally been normalized enough that most reasonable people have adapted to the inconvenience of it, and that has been heartening. But the university opened back up and kids started partying, and naturally that resulted in hot spots on campus. It seems likely that the return to school (not just for college kids) will further the spread. The numbers in the county are beginning over the last week to creep back up.

Gas prices have risen a bit, though they’re still a dime or so under $2. Groceries on the whole are available, though paper products and isopropyl alcohol and such remain in pretty short supply.

Another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police offers this week. They shot him in the back while his children watched from his car; now he’s paralyzed. He was unarmed and doing nothing wrong. Police apologists are saying that he had a knife in his vehicle (which he was not inside). Protests erupted as they should have, and a 17-year-old white boy shot three protesters with an assault rifle, killing two. Police did not shoot him.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Convention has been held this week. I haven’t watched it, though it sounds like it’s been a circus. It closed, apparently, with a rally on the White House grounds, which besides being a breach of ethics at best (and actually a breach of the Hatch Act, meaning that it’s illegal) also seems profoundly risky during a pandemic. These conventions are always circuses. I didn’t watch the Democratic convention either, though I understand it was more measured. I don’t typically go in for politics that much, though I do vote. I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to local politics. I feel so helpless about policy at the national or even state level, where I think largely you pay to play and it’s hard for politicians (if they even try) to understand how most of us live. And I say that as a very privileged person who knows he’s disconnected from how hand-to-mouth many people live. But at the local level, double digit vote differentials can determine outcomes and influence policy, I’m learning. I don’t like this stuff, but I’m feeling more these days as if it’s important for me to become more engaged and to lend my voice (or at least my vote) more conscientiously on the local scene rather than leaving those who are not as privileged as I am to shoulder the whole burden of caring and engaging. I’m not patting myself on the back here; it is pretty much the very literal least I can possibly do that is not doing nothing.

That was a bit of a digression, I know, but these things — racism and politics and public health — seem so profoundly intertwined right now that it’s hard to think of one without thinking of the others.

On the whole, for my very fortunate family, things seem normalish right now. The kids were definitely ready to see friends and have more structure in their days again, so even though the decision to send them to school was very difficult, I think it’s been good for them so far. Let’s just hope we don’t regret it. I’m sort of skeptical school will remain in session for long. The sense I’m getting from emails being sent out these days is that the school is basically trying to get the kids trained on how to use virtual schooling technology (most of my son’s first week focused on this) so that when school inevitably goes virtual in the coming weeks, the kids will be better equipped to handle it.

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