Out of Options

It has now been 23 months since our schools first shut down.

watercolor a barren tree on a snowy day
Image created via Midjourney

It has now been 23 months since our schools first shut down. My kids were home for a year of remote learning and no preschool. The older kids transitioned back to hybrid and then full-time school. We re-enrolled Autumn in preschool in April of 2021.

Our state has had an indoor mask mandate from the beginning. It was lifted briefly for vaccinated individuals before returning in the fall of 2021 as cases rose in the area. Then omicron hit and things got worse. We decided to send Autumn to preschool for half days instead of full days. The logic was that at least with half days, she wouldn’t have to remove her mask to eat lunch and potentially be exposed to the insanely contagious Omicron variant.

Cases in our area subsided, at least back to early December levels. Autumn returned to full days of preschool.

Then, a court case in downstate Illinois changed the game again. A judge put a temporary restraining order in place in a lawsuit where 700 parents challenged the school mask mandate. Our school district responded that their conclusion was that the TRO applied only to the 8 families in our district who were a party to the lawsuit. The mask mandate would remain in effect for everyone else. Our preschool said the same.

About a week later, another email came from the school district. Given the high vaccination rates in our area and the very low spread of cases in the schools, the mask requirement is being removed starting on February 22nd, though masks are still encouraged. I wasn’t happy about this, but my two older kids in school are both vaccinated. The statewide indoor mask mandate will be lifted on February 28th, but the governor was adamant that this would not apply to schools.

Two days ago, an email came from my preschool. Due to the ongoing legal battle, masks are now optional, effective immediately. The Montessori school has children ranging from toddler to elementary school, with Autumn’s class containing kids from 3-6 years old. So while some kids in her class may be vaccinated, many are not.

I was shocked and disappointed by my preschool’s decision. The director had previously reminded families that, as a private institution, the impact of the ongoing court battle is different.

When Autumn was exposed to Covid back in November, I felt helpless. I felt like all the protection in the world still couldn’t keep her safe. And that I knew my fears were irrational—that it is unlikely that she would come down with severe illness—but we’ve fallen into the “unlikely” category before. Her entire existence is because the Unlikely happened. Only 1% of pregnancies end in loss after 20 weeks, and yet that was Nelle. I don’t even know the stats for two second-trimester losses, but that’s Iris.

It feels hugely unfair. Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and now the same mitigation strategies that kept my older kids safe for so long, at least until they were vaccinated, are not available to Autumn. Anyone over the age of 5 who chooses to remove their mask has the option of the vaccine for additional protection. She doesn’t have that option.

On top of that, the approval of the vaccine for kids under 5 has been delayed until at least April. On top of that, new information is constantly emerging about the sub-variant of Omicron, thought to be even more contagious than Omicron.

As a parent, I’ve faced so many impossible choices throughout this pandemic. At this point, I’m so broken. In the back of my mind, I keep fearing that Autumn contracts Covid before she is vaccinated. And that even if she has a mild case, that thirty years from now we’ll discover some horrible impact on her health. An effect that is reduced for vaccinated people who contract Covid.

Probably we’ll all get Covid at some point. And I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner. Do I give up on trying to protect her? Do I look at her and say, “I did the best I could”?

I can’t think. We will keep her home from preschool today to give ourselves the weekend to process this change to the mask mandate.

And to anyone who says to me, “Yeah, but the risk is so low,” I can only respond, “So was the risk of losing two of my babies during pregnancy.”

Parents of rainbow babies are feeling heavy right now. Because we’ve already been told, “That probably won’t happen to you.” And it did.

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