Thursday was the first day of school for students in my district for the 2021-22 academic year. I prepared for my homeroom of 6th graders on Wednesday, carefully arranging their agenda books, printed schedules and student ids on their socially distanced desks. I was keen to be as organized as possible in hopes to create a stress free environment to a group of kids who were new to our building.
I’d like to imagine they were at least as excited as I was.
At some point, as I was processing magazines received over the summer and finishing up a bulletin board, I noticed an ever so slight soreness in my throat. It was mild, barely discernible, and at any time other than during a pandemic, I wouldn’t have given the minor pain a second thought, but I decided to pay close attention to how I was feeling – and to schedule a Covid test.
Scheduling a Covid test, at this point, should be a lot easier than what I experienced. After using state and county websites to find providers, the best I could do was book an appointment for Friday afternoon. Granted, I was seeking a time that was convenient and wanted a free test, two conditions that were particular to my circumstances and preferences.
In the late afternoon, as I felt my chest tightening up just a tiny bit, I reached out to the friends I spent time with over the previous weekend to see how they were feeling. Two out of three were fine, but the third was on her second day of antibiotics for bronchitis. Uh oh. While bronchitis, from what I understand, is viral, I certainly could have picked up the same virus she had, according to my brother who is a doctor.
It turns out, as you might expect, that in conjunction with her care, she had been tested for Covid. Her results were negative, a relief for sure, but not enough comfort for me to cancel my own appointment.
When I woke up Thursday, I realized my throat still felt a little off. Since I was exhibiting symptoms, going in to school wasn’t an option. I work with children who are too young to be vaccinated and I have zero interest in getting anyone sick. I found an alternate Covid testing site that was first come, first served at an out-of-pocket expense of $69, which I intend to submit to my Flex Plan for reimbursement.
My rapid test (15 minutes) came back negative and I was psyched to think I could return to school on Friday, having missed only one day of work. However, my district required me to get medical clearance, something my primary care physician wasn’t willing to provide, during a telemedicine visit, without a second, different type of test.
Can someone please tell me the point of a rapid test? I’m listening.
So today, instead of going to school I went for a PCR test, which is considered more conclusive than the rapid test I took yesterday. My results may not be available for 5 days, according to the testing site. Yes, five days.
I’m afraid this is what the school year is going to look like – each time someone exhibits what may or may not be typical symptoms of a cold or allergies, they’ll be required to miss multiple days of work and obtain sometimes difficult to access testing. Assuming they mention their symptoms, of course.
Through all of these months and months of pandemic, I have been acutely aware of how damn lucky I am. My job is stable with excellent benefits, including quality medical insurance and paid time off. My employer is incredibly responsible and well informed about best practices. I also work for the first district in the state, outside of New York City, to require that all employees be vaccinated – another thing which makes me proud to work for them.
I’m crushed to not have been present for the start of the school year and I really missed being my students’ first exposure to a middle school setting. But, I care too much about their well being to risk exposing them to anything beyond literature and middle school culture and curriculum. That doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated, though.
As an educator and human being, I’m obligated to keep my students safe and minimize their risks for contracting a virus which has our medical system playing a ceaseless game of whack-a-mole. Parents of children who don’t yet qualify for the vaccine are understandably on edge about the virus and its variants. I get it, I really do, but this testing situation needs some serious improvement.
The same state that demands educational professionals be evaluated in a myriad of ways, is failing us.
We all need to do our part to help keep each other healthy, especially those who are most vulnerable. I want every child I come in contact with to grow up to have the opportunity to make their sniffling parent or family member spicy ramen like my son did for me last night.
Let’s take care of our children – and each other, ok?
Lastly, if you personally are not vaccinated, I blame you for our current situation. Ffs, get vaccinated or be prepared for your children to have another challenging academic year. This situation is on you.