Planning for Fall and Beyond in the New Era of COVID-19

By Leah Persky, PhD & Certified Family Life Educator  • Family Life Education Manager

Now that summer is in full swing, many of us are starting to think about the transitions to fall and the start of school. I was jolted out of my summertime mentality as I was shopping last week; aisles and aisles of back-to-school items were already in place. How had that much of summer passed already? What will school look like this coming fall? I was not ready to think about that! I felt like we just got summer figured out and that took a lot of time and energy!

Below are my thoughts on the topic, as well as information about an upcoming event, Planning for Fall and Beyond in the new Era of COVID-19: Vaccinations, Safety and School-Aged Children, which will be held 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4, on Zoom and will include a panel of experts on children’s health, well-being and public health. JFCS is hosting this event in partnership with PJ Library, Jewish Family Service of St. Paul and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

With the recent headlines about increasing rates of COVID-19, in large part driven by the much more transmissible Delta variant, I find myself struggling and questioning what is safest and best for my children as they complete their summer activities and begin to prepare for the school year ahead.  Someone said to me the other day that the pandemic is now over, and I think that many people have been telling themselves that it is! It certainly seemed that way on a recent trip to visit family a few states over. We all need a break and the loosening of restrictions and low rates of COVID in many locations in the U.S., have provided much needed relief.

However, we know that it is not realistic to flat out say that the pandemic is over. The Director of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated last week that there was a 70 percent increase in cases the U.S. over the past week.

One important thing we continue to learn is that vaccines do work very well in protecting people against strains of COVID and the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not yet been vaccinated, which includes children. Something that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that really stuck with me: “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” My first thought is, what does this mean for the millions of children in the U.S. (and around the world) who remain unvaccinated? Children do not yet have the powerful option of a vaccine for protection. We have a responsibility to keep our children safe, physically and mentally. What can parents, schools and communities do to maximize protections for children?

One thing that immediately comes to mind is to fight health misinformation that seems to be at every turn on social media – but this is more of a long-term effort. Health misinformation causes preventable death and illness. There are current efforts to crack down on health misinformation in Congress, but who knows how long this will take or when new regulations will be created? In the meantime, what practical things can we do right now to help support our children through this next phase of the pandemic? We should continue to stay vigilante, do research, come together to share ideas and support each other. The last year-and-a-half we have learned that we are so resilient, resourceful and creative.

While this next stage of the pandemic isn’t clear cut or easy, we should all continue to do our best and make decisions that feel right for us and are supported by trusted information. Our upcoming informational event on Aug. 4 will be an opportunity to come together to learn from a panel of experts, including a pediatrician, therapist and a public health expert. We will dig deeper into these issues and set aside time to reflect on what has worked for us and why.

Our panel of experts will explore such questions as: Do we all need to stay masked if some members of our household are not vaccinated? How can I support my child who is anxious? Is air travel for children safe? Is it safe to get children vaccinated when it becomes available? Should schools require masks this fall? For more on this debate, check out this article, which I found really helpful. Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said that a mask mandate for public schools in the state does not look likely. This is certainly a topic to explore and think about and start talking to kids about before the start of classes in the fall. We will have a lot to discuss!

Audience participation is encouraged and there will be ample time set aside for the Q&A. Click here to learn more about this free event and to register. The event is open to all parents, grandparents and caregivers. Information will primarily cover school-aged children and pre-registration is required. 

A time to learn and take stock amid the flurry of summer activity will be helpful as we think about how to prepare for the fast-approaching start of school and the lovely transition into late summer. I hope you and your family stay safe and enjoy every last drop of warm weather and summertime fun.