I write this piece with full disclosure that I nearly failed the Biology Regents when I was in 9th grade. I am the first to admit that I know absolutely nothing about the science behind vaccines or about how the coronavirus works and please do not respond to me with your thoughts about why COVID-19 is or is not a hoax or what you think about vaccines.
I write this with a different credit to my name: I am a parent who is absolutely done with the stress of corona. This alone does not make me unique but I have experience to offer that some others do not yet have and I am hoping that by writing this piece, together we can effect change so you all don’t have to go through the same experience my family and school community have for the past few weeks.
My children started school on Rosh Chodesh Elul (it is not a charedi school). In nearly three weeks, my 2nd grade son has been in and out of bidud twice. My 5th grade daughter has been into bidud once. When my phone died last night, part of me thought about not recharging so I could avoid the message that is sure to come about them needing to go back into bidud again. My nephew in 3rd grade was put into bidud during his very first week of school and I’ve lost count how many times he’s been in and out since (he’s currently in). My niece in 1st grade just got out. My father starts every day by writing on our family whatsapp group: OK, what’s the count? Who’s in and who’s out? Our family is hardly the exception: at one point half of the school was in bidud because of classmates or vaccinated teachers having tested positive.
We run to schedule corona tests to shorten the bidud to 7 days- or more often, 3 or 4 days depending on when the exposure occurred but with so many people needing tests, they are hard to procure and often include waiting hours on line. When we finally get two negative corona tests and eagerly anticipate sending our kids back to school, we get the message from another classmate that they tested positive, which starts the process all over again. It’s an utter disaster.
Let me be clear. I am not in any way making light of the current threat that corona poses to the citizens of Israel. My husband and I are triply vaccinated and we were scrupulous about keeping the quarantine rules to the letter of the law when we made aliyah last year (ok, honestly, by the end, we took turns sneaking out at midnight to take out our trash on our private staircase). We quarantined our kids when they were exposed many many many times this past year. We wear masks inside. We are very strict about our kids wearing masks at school, even when many of their classmates do not. We take it seriously.
But here’s my question: why are we doing this?
If the third vaccine is now being offered to nearly every adult at threat in the country and the data has proven its efficacy in preventing serious illness, then why are we still worried about kids getting adults sick? Here’s another question- has anyone actually done the research to see how many kids actually get sick from exposure from another classmate or teacher if they’re all wearing masks? Based on the experiences we’ve seen in our kids’ classes (and I’m curious to hear if others have seen the same), very few kids have gotten corona with each exposure. Which means that in Israel’s large classes, kids will be in and out of bidud all year until each child gets sick or until a vaccine is finally approved. And lastly- and I ask this with the aforementioned admission of my lack of medical knowledge- if the kids that do get sick tend to get a mild case, why are we treating this any more differently for them than we would the flu?
When I had to lock my child in a room because I had to worry about the threat to another person’s life, I willingly complied despite every fiber of my parent and educator hats screaming that it was not healthy for my child’s mental, emotional or physical well-being. But now that the reality has changed, why hasn’t the mandated bidud by exposure been canceled? Why aren’t we allowing children to at least take a walk outside when no one else is present? Has the government maintained this rule out of habit and for no other reason.
I appreciate the difficulties the government is facing in trying to avoid the economic difficulties of a lockdown with the need to ensure people are safe. Vaccines are definitely one answer to the problem and I can’t express how appreciative I am to live in a country where I have access not only to vaccines but to a booster. But it can’t be emphasized enough: if kids can’t get vaccines yet, then fighting the virus with vaccines while keeping the bidud rules as they are is neglecting the very real needs of our children- and their parents.
Starting school on September 1st without abolishing the bidud rule for exposed children will leave many children in the same place that my kids have experienced for the past few weeks and this is utterly unacceptable. I truly hope the government considers this before September 1st.