#childsafety | For Michigan parents, a hellscape of nasal swabs, missed work and fury

“I figure I’ll need one eventually,” Mangino said. “I got one for my niece, but now she’s tested positive. I’ll give some to my neighbors — the dad is positive but the son and daughter don’t have tests.”

He likens the pandemic to a “war,” and he can’t allow himself to get tired while doing everything he can to protect his family. Sometimes, though, he can’t help getting angry.

“I’m frustrated that it’s gotten so far out of hand, with people pushing back at everything that could reduce the problem,” Mangino said.

His kids wear masks at school, but they are the exception. Masks are optional in Utica schools, as they are for about half of Michigan’s 1.4 million public school students. 

While face-mask and in-person learning policies vary around the state, the stress felt by parents seems close to universal.

“I call it pandemic fatigue,” said Laura Carino, principal at Parkview Elementary in Novi. “Parents are just tired of the pandemic in general, and everyone’s craving what we used to have.”

That includes Carino, a parent herself who has spent much of the past week doing everything but the job she was hired for at Parkview. 

On Wednesday, she found herself subbing for an absent kindergarten teacher. Earlier in the week, she led a gym class and also passed out juice boxes in the cafeteria to fill in for employees who were home ill. Back at her own home, Carino’s daughter missed two weeks of school earlier in the pandemic because her teacher tested positive for COVID, and her son is disappointed because honors band was cancelled due to the virus.  

“Schools are supposed to be a safe place for their kids,” Carino told Bridge. “But we have to send kids home for runny noses we wouldn’t have done two years ago.” 

Some Michigan school districts, including in Ann Arbor, have closed for days this school year as “mental health” breaks for staff — breaks parents don’t get.

“Every decision (parents) make is pandemic-related to keep kids safe,” Carino said. “It never has the ability to go to the back burner and that’s what’s so exhausting.”

The Mangino family in Macomb County has been extraordinarily cautious since COVID-19 emerged in Michigan in March 2020. They’re all vaccinated and wear masks almost everywhere, including outside at Disney World and inside at extended family gatherings, Gino Mangino said. They avoided the virus until this month, when omicron swept the state.

“Doing what I have to do for my family, that’s just what I do,” Mangino said. “It’s dealing with people in the outside world that bothers me.”

Back in the Beaudoin household, COVID’s impact on schools is “hanging over us,” Betsy Beaudoin said. “We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Two days a week, she or her husband leave for work late to get their kids to school and leave early to pick them up, because of the no-bus days. At work, her office is constantly short-handed because of illness and difficulty finding replacement workers.

At home, the family is “struggling with more anxiety,” she said. Even a note reminding families about pajama day for spirit week wasn’t fun this year; it became just another thing an overburdened mom had to plan for. 

Her children, she said, are no longer “comfortable being around big groups. My son asked if he could start wearing two masks at school. I bought him a better mask instead.”

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