They Will Never Get The Time Back

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Photo by Alec Sall

I'm a cautious person. My family and I have obeyed all of the Stay At Home Orders. We use masks in public, we haven't had any guests inside of our home and our family has not gone inside any one else's home since mid-March.

When we are out and about and see people, we use social distancing, we cover sneezes and coughs, we wash hands all the time – even more than before, and that was a lot. Most of these measures are in place primarily to make we sure don't spread the virus to others – even if we likely don't have it – because again, this is caution, and we know that people can spread it even when they're not showing symptoms yet. When others do this, they are also protecting us.

When all of this news became a reality for our country, there was much we as a nation didn't know, and the stories from around the world about the virus's effects were horrifying. It made sense to ask people to stay at home as much as possible as the virus hit the U.S. in a powerful way this spring, while the country tried to get a handle on this disease and stop its spread.

Through all of this my rising high school junior son and my rising college sophomore daughter have handled it really well. They are grateful to be healthy, to have a good home, a good family and many other things. That said, they are not happy with the lifestyle that we must maintain at all times. They are frustrated and they miss the lives they lead before.

Who doesn't?

There are many issues at stake here of course – we all know what they are: health and safety, avoiding overloading our health care system with sick people, protecting the most vulnerable among us, staggering unemployment, keeping small businesses viable so people can work and live and the mental frustration of the lockdown (which has mental serious mental health effects from depression to suicide and domestic violence).

Since my blog is about raising teens, I'm only going to focus on my concerns for them specifically, and my emotions as a parent. I am NOT going to write about politics, medical considerations concerning the most vulnerable or the Constitution.

I'm just going to write about my teens and what I hope for them.

I'm going to write in general terms about what we know – it'll be things you've heard and seen from multiple sources. I'm not going to write about the exceptions – I'm going to write about what happens most of the time.

And I'm going to write about what I think can sensibly work to live with this virus until testing for the virus itself, its antibodies and a vaccine can be created. Even at best, testing and vaccines – despite our greatest scientific, medical and governmental minds – will struggle to make a significant impact – tests will have inaccuracies, viruses will mutate before a vaccine is available, etc. We are going to have to learn to find a way to live with this virus as we have been forced to do with other dangerous viruses in the world, for centuries.

I know SARS-CoV-2 has been deadly and surprising in a lot of ways. My understanding and I think most people will agree upon this is that the most significant form of transmission of the Corona Virus SARS-CoV- 2 is in the following:

1. Droplets from respiration of some kind – typically, coughs and sneezes that are not covered, and can also be transmitted in other ways, perhaps even speaking, etc.

2. When people are within 6 feet or closer

3. When people are in enclosed spaces, bringing a greater chance of infection since the virus will be in greater concentration, as opposed to being outside.

4. Other bodily fluids from an infected person – sputum, blood, urine, semen, feces – may contain Covid-19 – so yes – washing your hands – for 20 seconds with soap – kills off germs of all kinds. That's why we're supposed to do that regularly anyway.

If you're sick and you cover your nose and mouth with a mask, you'll keep more of the infectious particles from spreading if you MUST go out in public. If you aren't sick, you may also benefit from that barrier to limit the virus particles you breathe in if the people around you also wear a mask.

OK.

Now, who is most at risk?

Again, I'm not writing about the exception – but who, for the most part, is getting gravely ill and dying in the largest numbers (I'm not including front-line workers, etc).

Data shows the majority adversely affected are people over 60 and especially those who are very elderly, and those with comorbidities, and those who are immune-compromised for a variety of reasons.

I know there are terrifying stories of people of all ages who are getting ill and facing difficult recoveries and unexpected deaths. As horrific as these stories are, again, I believe they are the exception.

But this is why we social distance, wear masks in public spaces (to primarily protect others) – to limit the spread of infection when are among others who are not the people we live with.

So what is the reasonable way for my kids to experience some semblance of normalcy regarding school in the fall? What to do?

I want my children to experience school. High school and college only come around once in a lifetime, and I don't want them to spend these years working on online classes in a bedroom not seeing friends and not being involved in anything.

I live for seeing what my kids do. Much as they are wonderful folks I'm not a sea turtle that comes onto the beach and drops off my young to fend for themselves; I want to be a part of all that they are a part of, whatever way that can be done at this time.

My son is an athlete and just before the Covid-19 shutdown started, he had earned a spot on the high school varsity lacrosse team and had joined a travel lacrosse team. He has a good number of friends, had just started a job at Top Golf that he was very excited about and we planned to visit several colleges over spring break that he is interested in, including seeing a lacrosse game at Notre Dame. In a matter of a week, all of this was swept away, out of necessity.

It's been two months of isolation, and while I think he's learned to be flexible, have goals in an uncertain future, tolerate circumstances he doesn't like and manage his emotions when feels very disappointed, I don't think it's mentally healthy for this to go on for too long.

When the fall comes, I'd prefer a school day filled with students of all ages, packed pep rallies and full stadiums, gymnasiums, auditoriums and other venues for sports and performances. It's not going to happen, of course.

If the school has to create alternating school days of Freshman/Sophomores and then Junior/Seniors to accommodate social distancing, then that's better than being at home all day.

If classes are a hybrid of in-person and online, that would be better than attending high school as a "correspondence" school – meaning sitting alone at his desk at home all day. I heartily applaud ALL teachers and administration who were thrown into this – they have done their best. But this does take a toll on a kid who truly liked being in high school.

If I can't go see him play sports in person (and I DO hope there are sports at some point), perhaps we can log in to watch games remotely. This can happen.

I'm sure there may be other modifications – the need to take temps, use hand sanitizer throughout the day, etc., if students are allowed on the high school campus.

He won't be thrilled but he could live with this scenario.

For my daughter, I know her Ohio university is following state guidelines, and their governor is working to open the state gradually. As a one-time graduate of my daughter's university with four grandchildren there, university life is clearly meaningful for this governor, and Ohio seems to be reasonable as a state in many ways.

It might mean hybrid online, webcast and some in-person class combination. It will mean even more vigilance with health checks, quick and easily accessed health assessments by medical professionals, and quarantine dorm rooms if necessary. They have discussed a plan to see how things go and have back-up plans for educating in case the best-case scenario doesn't play out. Notre Dame has just announced that it will hold classes in the fall, with changes to the schedule to allow for minimal flowing of students in and out, starting the term two weeks earlier, eliminating fall break and starting the winter holiday break at Thanksgiving – see "Notre Dame to Welcome Students Back to Campus for Fall Semester" (NBC5 Chicago, May 2020).

A lot of how all this will go is dependent upon how the students conduct themselves.

College life, and young people in general, usually spend their early years at packed bars and parties, etc. They will have to think if doing things they way they always did is worth it if there university will have to shut down again and there will be no university life. That remains to be seen if they can rise to the occassion somehow.

Because while I pointed out that it's not in general young people en masse getting sick and dying, the students' behavior can and will affect people older than them – their professors, administrators, staff, etc. And we need these folks to keep the university running.

One father from my daughter's university parent Facebook page posited a reasonable set of questions, clearly indicating he desired not to discuss political or medical expertise, but simply a parent question, which I'll summarize: Does your child want to return to the university? What are your thoughts on this a parent? What factors – as a parent (not a politician, not a medical expert, not a constitutional expert) go into that decision?

Close to 400 parents responded affirmatively, and many have commented with insightful suggestions or perceptions. While I've not met all of these parents, I do read a lot of what they say, and my impression is that these are bright, educated, caring, informed parents.

With these kinds of sensible measures top of mind, and with the need to continuously be flexible, I look forward to exploring reasonable plans for allowing teens and young adults to return to school and college with measures to keep everyone safe.

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