I have asked that question and a few others every night since March 9th. March 9th was the day before my employer gave us all Zoom accounts and told us to work from home, three days before Fairfield Public Schools announced that they were moving to distance learning for the following Monday and four days before my husband’s company also moved to working remotely.
I have kept a journal with data from every day since then (honestly, it is a spreadsheet and a few graphs of the data), and my level of dread has risen and fallen in response to the numbers I have seen.
So in late June, when my daughter’s coach said they were going to start having in person gymnastics practices, instead of just meeting by Zoom, I went to the numbers, and I looked at all of the precautions that they were going to have at the gym. They were going to reduce the number of people present and space them out with taped squares on the ground, so they had room to stretch. They were going to require each gymnast to bring their own hand sanitizer, they were each going to have their own Tupperware of chalk, and they were going to clean equipment between each use. There would be masks and one door to enter (where they would get their temperature checked) and a different door from which they would leave. And the details went on and on and on.
And I looked at the numbers for Fairfield, and I saw that there were many days with no new cases in town, and I looked at https://covidactnow.org/ and three or four different papers to see what people were saying about the spread in CT. And despite the fear, I said she could go back because I couldn’t imagine that any of the data would look any better than it did right then.
And some of the moms of her teammates asked me what I thought and what I was going to decide, and I told them how I did the analysis…and I felt good that they trusted my opinion, and I felt scared that they trusted me at the same time.
I have worked for years to engage the public, to teach science to young campers, to coach my students to be translators of science to their families and friends. And during this crisis, I have been reading articles galore to help educate myself about this pandemic so I could answer questions, and talk friends off the cliff of terror, and serve as a sounding board so they can think about the risks of their various choices.
But with my daughter’s friends and their families opting to trust my guidance and follow my lead, I can’t help but worry that something terrible might happen to one of our kids, and then I will feel that I am somehow to blame. I want our kids to have a little bit of almost-normal, but I want them all to stay safe and come home to us healthy each night.
In my rational, zen moments, I remember that this virus’ spread is controlled by biology and physics and that we need to balance our lives and tolerate a little risk in some areas while avoiding it in others.
That if I chose to let her do this, I need to opt not to do some things for our family to help make sure we don’t take on too much risk. So we will just make do with home-cooked meals and the awesome takeout that can be found in town. And for a moment, I feel like we have a plan and that everything will be okay.
And then I hear the discussion of the Board of Education meeting about reopening schools and I see that more choices lay ahead and these are more complicated than letting her return to gymnastic practices where she is in a group of 9 girls. And I find myself wondering what choices I will make about this coming school year.
And then I ask myself again, How are the numbers today?
Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.