The vaccines are there. The school is open. Some parents are still suffering | News, Sports, Jobs

This photo provided by Amber Cessac shows Amber Cessac taking a selfie while her daughters do their homework at their Georgetown, Texas home on September 9, 2021. A year and a half later, families are still agonizing over the pandemic. There is always the exhaustion of worrying about exposure to COVID-19 itself, and the policies in schools and daycares where children spend their time. The spread of the more infectious delta variant, especially among people who refuse vaccinations, has caused a sharp increase in infections in children. But there are also COVID exposures and illnesses – and even minor colds – in schools and daycares that mean children are being sent home, forcing parents to scramble for babysitting. (Amber Cessac via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) – Eight days after the start of the school year, Amber Cessac’s five daughters, aged 4 to 10, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Having them all sick at once and worrying about the long term repercussions as other parents in their school, and even her own mother, downplayed the importance of the virus, “broke something inside of me” said Cessac.

“Anxiety and stress have sort of been suppressed”, she said. “It was just, I don’t know, to win and I felt so helpless.”

Like parents around the world, Cessac has been dealing with pandemic stress for over 18 months now.

There is exhaustion in worrying about the disease itself, made worse by the spread of the more infectious delta variant, especially in people who refuse vaccinations, which has caused a surge in infections in children. .

The online school has disrupted the education of children and the work of parents. Then, returning from school in person this year resulted in increased exposures and community tensions as parents argued over appropriate protocols. The politicization of masks, vaccines and withdrawals has left many parents exhausted. Deciding what is acceptable for children and what is not can seem difficult.

“Parents are exhausted to a level we have never seen before” said Amanda Zelechoski, professor of psychology at Purdue Northwest University, who co-founded the website and nonprofit Pandemic Parenting. “We’ve been in survival mode for a year and a half now and it’s relentless.”

Schools are a constant concern for many. There is evidence that masks in schools help reduce the spread of the virus, and a majority of Americans support the requirement for masks for students and teachers. But it breaks down strongly along partisan lines.

Some Republican governors have tried to ban mask mandates.

District policies on masks, testing, and quarantines vary widely. Shortly after schools reopened in August, the rate of coronavirus infections forced dozens of districts to forgo in-person learning.

The four oldest girls from the Cessac charter school go to the suburb of Austin, Texas, do not need masks. Her children, who are too young to be vaccinated, told her they were among only a handful of children in their classes wearing masks. But she sent them back to school as they recovered.

“It’s not better elsewhere” she said. “All moms, we feel stuck in this situation. There is nothing we can do.

More than 5.5 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, with 20% of all child cases since the start of this school year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children are at less risk of serious illness or death, but at least 498 have died.

Vaccines have been available for children as young as 12 since May, but vaccination rates have lagged behind adults. Federal data shows that about half of 16 and 17 year olds are vaccinated, while 43% of 12 to 15 year olds are; two-thirds of American adults are vaccinated.

And if a vaccine for young children is expected before the end of the year, they remain more vulnerable. Many parents felt confused about how best to protect them. “You still had parents struggling with decisions and what is safe for my family, and feeling left behind or invisible because other segments of society may have moved on.” Zelechoski said.

More than one million students dropped out of U.S. public schools in the 2020 school year, which was marked by widespread distance classes. It is not yet known what happened this school year, but the fights for mask mandates have led some parents to alternatives.

Sheila Cocchi, a single mom still struggling with health issues after suffering from COVID-19 in February, pays a teacher to teach her at home for 10 hours a week with an online program. She also works from home in Fernandina Beach, Florida, just north of Jacksonville.

“Last year it was like it was OK, the whole world went crazy and we all have to adjust to that. Now it’s a different kind of stress ”, she said. “We are trying to get this under control as a nation, or at least as a state, and there are so many people who are not participating in it. I would like my children to go to school as much as anyone.

Other parents say they know being back to school is best for their kids, and they just hope it doesn’t matter.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Heather Buen, who works for a local utility and is a Democratic political organizer, asks her children to wear masks and wash their hands, even when other children or even teachers don’t. do not.

“It’s a lot of effort to maintain that” she said.

She believes seeing their father, an electrician, get COVID-19 helped scare them into sticking to preventative measures. The five children at the school did not get sick and Buen said she felt reassured as it appears that more students and staff are wearing masks now than at the start of the school year. Yet parents in three districts, including his own, sued, claiming that schools violate students’ constitutional rights because there is no mask mandate.

Lawsuits, fights in school boards, disagreements between family members and friends are also a source of stress.

“The denigration on both sides was the most difficult thing”, said Sarah Brazwell, who has a 3-year-old in daycare and a 9-year-old in elementary school. She is not ready to get the vaccine and wearing masks in her home town of Florida Panhandle is “a little unnecessary” she said, because so few people do.

Child care – finding her, paying for her, worrying about the spread of disease – has been a huge stress during the pandemic. Labor is scarce and it can be difficult to find a place. Infections and exposures, and even minor colds in child care centers, can mean children being sent home for days or weeks, causing parents to scramble repeatedly to get babysitting.

Deanna Manbeck, chair of the board of directors for her child’s small nonprofit daycare in Wilmington, Delaware, bears the brunt of the blame on about 20 families there. Masks are compulsory for teachers but not vaccines lest staff resign.

“How could I tell parents that we can no longer take care of their children and that they must find a new center on an optional mandate? As a mother, I want all teachers to be vaccinated, but we are not in a position to impose them ”, she said.

Jeff Sheldon and his wife began interviewing nannies for their two sons, a 3-year-old and a baby, after daycare closures and common childhood illnesses kept their children at home for weeks at a time this summer. He and his wife took sick leave and worked from home. Their mothers also helped.

“We cannot continue to live with the uncertainty of the closing of the courses at all times” he said of daycare in Lincoln, Nebraska, noting that his eldest son had thrived there.

While Sheldon was more able than his wife, who works for the public school system, to work from home, the pandemic has underscored the burden on women, especially the balance between childcare and work, and millions women have left the labor market.

Taking time off was a brief consideration for Dr. Ankita Modi, a pediatrician in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was upset at the very thought of crossing her mind, she said, but she was so desperate. In her school district, masks are optional, there is no distance school option, and she says contact tracing is ineffective. Local health officials agreed and threatened legal action against the district before agreeing to new proceedings in late September.

Her youngest child, 11, is not old enough to be vaccinated; the other two are. “It is as if you knowingly expose them to a real and concrete risk every day” she said. “That, as a parent, is really annoying. I don’t think anyone has slept well since school started.

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