As a classroom teacher, I cannot enforce safety protocols in my school all by myself.
I can’t make students and coworkers wear masks.
I can’t require people to show me their medical records to determine with any degree of certainty who is and is not fully vaccinated.
But when it comes to Covid-19, the federal government is again throwing up its hands and leaving all safety protocols to small town government officials, local school directors, and schmucks like me.
The result is a patchwork of inconsistent and inadequate safety directives that put far too many at risk.
Here we go again.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines Friday that it is safe for public schools to open for in-person learning so long as unvaccinated students and staff wear masks and an attempt is made to keep people 3 feet apart.
Children and adults who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, according to the CDC.
However, these are all just suggestions.
There are no laws backing them up.
There is no federal mandate that anyone wear masks, that anyone prove their vaccination status or ANYTHING!
And as many parts of the world are battling new and more virulent strains of Covid-19 and some of the worst such as the Delta Variant are even beginning to show up on our shores, I want to know WHY.
Why is our government abrogating its responsibility to keep us safe?
It’s not like lawmakers aren’t already dedicated to protecting us in other ways.
The federal government has strict regulations to keep our foods and medicines safe. It has regulations to keep our motor vehicles and buildings safe. It even has specific regulations about which other vaccines children must have before they can enter the public school system.
Why is Covid-19 any different?
The government won’t let you drive without putting on a seat belt, it regulates your speed on the highway, and it won’t let you smoke a cigarette in a public place.
Why won’t it do the same kind of thing with Covid-19?
If the CDC is correct that unvaccinated people should wear masks in schools particularly in indoor and crowded settings, then our government should mandate we follow those guidelines.
“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports,” the CDC said in a statement.
Unfortunately, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has been her own worst enemy often garbling the organization’s message to avoid controversy. For instance, she stressed that decisions on safety measures should be put in place locally.
This has often been interpreted as leaving room for fewer safety precautions.
But this goes against Walensky’s other statements that MORE RESTRICTIONS may be necessary, not less.
In areas with low vaccination rates, higher viral spread or with increasing cases of new strains of the virus, she has suggested universal masking and other measures.
Whether this miscommunication is a result of a cowardly Joe Biden administration or Walensky’s own fault, it has hurt the vaccination effort. Instead of meeting the goal of 70% of Americans fully vaccinated by the July 4th holiday, we’re stalled at nearly 50%.
If there were actual mandates about what vaccinated people were allowed to do and those mandates were enforced, it would probably incentivize more people to get the shots.
At very least we should mandate masks at every elementary school in the nation. After all, children 11 or younger aren’t even eligible for the vaccine because it hasn’t been cleared for that age group yet. No need to check medical records. Elementary schools will be filled with the unvaccinated.
But no. Nothing.
It’s not even like these new CDC guidelines are extreme.
They fall well short of safety guidance in other parts of the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for all vaccinated people to continue to wear masks because of increased spread of variants of the virus.
The CDC isn’t going that far because of confidence that the vaccines being used in the US – the ones made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson – are effective against new variants, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“We know from good studies that the Delta variant is protected against by the vaccines that fundamentally are being used here. And that’s the reason why the CDC feels at this point they should not change their recommendation,” he said.
If the CDC guidelines are sensible and moderate, why won’t the federal government enforce them?
The answer seems to be multifaceted.
First, the vaccine and even Covid-19, itself, have been politicized by the Republican Party.
At this summer’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), participants cheered low vaccination numbers. Though vaccinated, himself, the former President has continually used fear of the vaccine as a tool to rally support.
There may be reluctance among Democrats to let their own political agenda be derailed by bogus cries of tyranny at public safety measures. (Of course given that those efforts already seem to be mostly derailed by reluctance to override the filibuster, this hardly seems to matter.)
Another overriding concern throughout the pandemic has been the economy.
Governmental officials from the federal to the state to the local level have been unwilling to put safety concerns ahead of capitalism. Business interests have repeatedly been prioritized over protections for human life.
In short, keeping schools open to in-person learning is necessary to keep parents working at their jobs. So any safety precautions that could jeopardize keeping the schools open jeopardizes profits.
Without the federal government stepping in, the decision probably will fall to most local school districts.
And this is entirely unfair to school directors. They should not have to make these kinds of life and death decisions.
In most cases, I would expect they’ll pass the buck on to individual teachers, parents and students.
If you want to mask up, you can. If you don’t, you won’t have to do it.
This will make individuals essentially powerless to protect themselves from the virus since wearing a mask doesn’t provide much protection to the wearer – it mostly protects others from the wearer.
And as to 3 feet social distancing, that’s impossible in most school buildings so it will just be ignored.
Like last school year, people will unnecessarily catch the virus.
The question is how much this will affect the national picture.
With schools closed for the summer, infection rates are mostly down. However, that could change in late August and September as they reopen.
If enough people don’t get the vaccine, that increases the chances for new variants of the virus to come into existence. With enough time, they can become resistant to the vaccines we have.
On the other hand, the pandemic could be over.
I fervently hope it is.
I want my classroom to return to normal.
I want to continue to make it better than normal.
But without the government stepping in here, we’re all just engaged in a game of chicken.
A game of chicken with a pandemic.
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