Back to school, back to school

Kevin Kilroy
3 min readJun 11, 2021
Vials of an unspecified COVID vaccine
Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

I don’t disagree that we’d be better off with kids (and college students, for that matter) back in the classroom this fall, but it bothers me that so much of the discourse surrounding COVID-19 public health measures and protocols seems to begin from where we’d like us to be before making an argument as to how we can get there safely. This seems to me to be exactly backwards and part of why the US, despite absolutely having the resources to address the pandemic effectively from the start, has had shutdowns continue for more than a year now. For example, the headline of the article linked above is “We Must Fully Reopen Schools This Fall. Here’s How.”¹ This suggests that the primary concern should be figuring out how to reopen schools safely, regardless of the state of the pandemic or the virus at that point. Again, this is exactly backwards — I’m all in favor of planning to reopen in the fall and preparing with that in mind, but starting from the position that we must reopen implies that even if things get more dangerous — e.g., new strains, waning vaccine efficacy, etc — the priority must still be to figure out how to reopen. We’ve seen this again and again, making public health decisions based on where we’d like to be rather than what the situation actually is, and the result is that we make presumptions and mistakes that ultimately cost lives and drag the situation on and on and on. Even more troublesome is that fact that this often leads to watered-down versions of recommendations, as people assume the best-case scenario rather than the worst-case scenario because the best-case scenario is more likely to let them hit their targets. Moreover, most people don’t focus on the nuance of public health guidelines — most people are just looking for the government to tell them that what they already want to do is fine to do, and they’ll be happy to interpret guidelines in whatever way is most convenient for them², if they even give a shit in the first place. We can’t keep making plans based on what we want; even when we do so with the best intentions, those plans get bastardized. We have to handle the pandemic by placing public health first and waiting to see how things are going, even if that means spending a bit more time doing virtual school or continuing to not hold concerts. Yes, it sucks, but so does permanent brain fog and breathing troubles, and so does losing your loved ones.

¹ I know that headlines are typically not written by the authors, and this particular wording might not reflect what they think — indeed, the actual article is milder than this.

² See, e.g., the way so many people treat the vaccines as a silver bullet against COVID, which they are not. The vaccines are highly effective and everyone should get vaccinated — I’d argue that if you are able to do so, you have a moral imperative to do so. But, too many people seem to forget that being vaccinated does not mean that you can’t get COVID, and this will only become more problematic if the people who refuse to get vaccinated end up creating a new strain that’s resistant to the vaccines. When it affects you, and may potentially kill you, there’s a pretty big gulf between “minimal” and “no” risk.

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Kevin Kilroy

Poet and doctoral student in Writing Practices at SUNY Albany. Erstwhile drummer. Television addict. Traveler. Skier. Papa to two kitties.