It’s become a cherished daily ritual.
I pick up my daughter and her best friend from their after-school program, and they tell me what they ate for lunch and what they did at recess. Sometimes they talk about the playground, other times it’s jumping rope or hula-hooping. If I’m lucky, I might even get a few tidbits about what they learned.
It’s the third week of school, and we’ve fallen into this familiar pattern. It seems like a moment that could exist for families at any time in any place – except for the fact that when I pick up my 5-year-old, she and her schoolmates are all masked up. We stay masked in the car until we drop her friend off.
That’s unique to this school year and last. It’s my daughter’s first school year – and one that comes with a heavy dose of parental angst as COVID-19 and the highly contagious delta variant spike around the country.
In addition to COVID, mask wars are surging, with parents, schools and lawmakers at odds over who can and should have command over our children’s safety.
I’m Julia Thompson, senior editor for travel and consumer news, and my daughter just started kindergarten.
Welcome to this week’s “This Is America,” a newsletter centered on race and identity and how they shape our lives, including the woes parents and children are facing this year amid the start of school.
Another parent’s perspective:Are we overreacting to COVID by keeping our son home for school? Spoiler alert, we’re not.
But first: Race and justice news we’re watching
►Despite pledges to crack down on hatred, TikTok is still trafficking in short-form videos that promote white supremacy and anti-Black racism, according to a new study.
►How race, racism and slavery are taught in public schools is a topic of hot debate. Scholars say this is the right way to teach about them.
►The movie “CODA” marks a moment of joy for deaf communities in terms of representation, but it’s not without its critics.
►”The world is yours, too.” Reporter Eve Chen spoke with GLAAD award-winning journalist and author of “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States” Samantha Allen about what she wants LGBTQ travelers to know.
Why can’t it be simple?
Face masks, when used properly, drastically reduce the amount of respiratory droplets you spread – meaning masks protect both the wearer and those around them from getting sick. Health officials recommend face masks for the unvaccinated. Children under 12 are all unvaccinated against COVID-19.
This seems like a simple equation.
It all seems to point to the need for face masks to be worn in school to protect unvaccinated children, right?
But not everyone thinks so. I live in one of nine states that prohibits schools from mandating masks.
I became that parent I never wanted to be, calling my school and district administrators, urging them to up the messaging around masks, asking them what more could be done. As a journalist, I’m not able to get involved in politics, so I pushed where I could.
I assume more parents stress over back-to-school shopping and about how well their children will adjust. But I only had so much mental and emotional space, and it was all filled with safety concerns. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was stress eating. I was emotional.
Thankfully, our school board announced the week before school started that masks would be required. I breathed a sigh of relief, the terror I felt over sending my child into an environment surrounded by people who were unmasked and unvaccinated abating slightly.
That terror won’t fully go away until a COVID vaccine is available to younger children, but at least there’s one more precaution being taken.
My colleague Louie Villalobos and his wife decided to keep their son home for school this year. I don’t blame them. As he notes, classrooms have become ground zero for COVID-19 politics. We have no guarantees when it comes to our children’s safety and health.
More than 4.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 as of last week, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. August pediatric cases are up precipitously compared to July with more than 180,000 added the week ended Aug. 19 – 22.4% of the weekly reported cases.
I don’t care about the politics. As pediatric cases of COVID-19 rise, I just want my child to have some small amount of protection. Asking her and those around her to don a tiny piece of fabric seems like a simple ask.
Give children credit – and protection
For everyone who says that young children can’t or won’t wear their masks reliably, please give them more credit. Children will do what they’re taught and what is modeled for them – for good or for bad.
My 2-year-old wears his mask like a boss. My 5-year-old points out people who aren’t wearing their masks correctly. (We’ve since talked about not pointing at and whispering loudly about people in public, though maybe some adults need to be called out in that way.)
Children with disabilities may need accommodations, but most children can mask up.
“COVID is too bad, and I don’t like it,” 5-year-old Roman Maye told my colleague Alia Wong.
Kids get it. They know that masks can protect them. My own 5-year-old wears a mask all day at school, even outside, without complaint. She doesn’t love it, but it’s the price of admission for her to get to spend recess with her friends.
Khaza Terry, 5, told Alia she has to wear her mask every day. “Because it’s, uh, corona, and, and I don’t want to die,” she said emphatically.
Join us in Spaces
The Black community has been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but many remain reluctant to be vaccinated. Why? And what can be done? Join us on Twitter Spaces at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 26, as we talk with Black doctors and medical experts about what they’re seeing on the frontlines, vaccine hesitancy, COVID-19 myths and answer your questions.
This is America is a weekly take on current events from a rotating panel of USA TODAY Network journalists with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. If you’re seeing this newsletter online or someone forwarded it to you, you can subscribe here. If you have feedback for us, we’d love for you to drop it here.