By Chelsea Councilor Damali Vidot
We are in this together. As COVID-19 starts to pick up steam across the Commonwealth again, living in such close quarters to each other poses a threat to us all. Dr. Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, warns that we are in a new phase of the virus due to its deadly, widespread reach. Because our communities are so dense, this resurgence isn’t just a ‘Chelsea’ or ‘Boston’ problem. All it takes is a short bus ride on the 111 on your way to work to bring the coronavirus over the Tobin Bridge.
Since the very beginning of this pandemic, our state government’s reluctance to shut down in a timely manner made it harder to slow the spread of infection. A couple of months later, the phases of reopening have proven what we’ve always feared: we may have opened too soon. Now that we are seeing our infection rates begin to creep up again, we need to have a serious conversation about protecting our most precious gifts, our children. In these times of uncertainty, the one thing we can be sure of is that the only way to guarantee safety for us all is by practicing physical distancing by avoiding the gathering of crowds.
The ideas proposed for school re-openings are insufficient to ensure our children’s safety. Without resources to fund these ideas, or the inability to guarantee safety to all of our families, it risks our children’s lives and those of their families.
We learned recently that Massachusetts has no plans to track COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, even though they are inevitable. The infection of one child, 1 teacher, 1 family is 1 too many. Despite our desire to return to a level of normalcy, I believe the one thing we need to come to terms with is that the new normal must be drastically re-imagined. It is not returning to the status quo pre-pandemic. Using our children as guinea pigs to assess the contagion when we are still in the first wave of infections is not only irresponsible–it is cruel.
While the unknowns about reopening looms over the heads of parents, so do fears of unemployment, loss of health insurance, how to pay rent or mortgage and concerns of how to feed their families. Adding to that whether seeking an education would pose a threat to their family’s health and safety should be the last thing our public schools burden our families with.
Week after week, I hear teachers, school nurses, faculty, parents and even students shout from their rooftops of their reluctance to return to school due to fear of contagion– and rightfully so. This time could have been better served creating and mastering an all-virtual learning program for our students while utilizing the lessons learned in the Spring Semester as a pilot program. We could have been allocating funding for the equitable distribution of remote learning technologies. Our legislature could have provided funding to ensure that the reopening plans are financed to ensure safety. But our state has fallen far short–and universities around the country are already sounding the alarm to cancel on-campus activities.
We should not be forcing our children into school with a deadly respiratory virus on the loose. I may be an elected official and candidate for office– but I’m a mother first. Because of this, I am committed to amplifying the needs of our children, parents, educators and school staff. If you spend one moment listening to the voices of those at the center of this, it’s clear that we have to invest in our students and teachers and get a grip on this virus before we even conceive of threatening our children and families.Chelsea Councilor Damali Vidot is a candidate for state representative.