We’re all tired of the restrictions hampering our ability to socialize, to attend performances or religious services, return to office workplaces and, most of all, to see young people back in school or college, learning in person, full time, rather than hybrid or remote.
Halloween activities in most Massachusetts cities and towns will be limited or canceled, as they should be. A recent survey shows one-third of American families don’t plan to attend an in-person Thanksgiving dinner next month. Most Americans are comfortable hosting no more than four of their immediate family members this year, the poll found.
Even though we’re enjoying a beautiful fall foliage season with robust visitation to the Berkshires helping to prop up restaurants and retailers before they deal with a bleak holiday season and winter, there are disturbing signs that some admirably social-distanced residents are tempted to throw caution to the winds.
That’s most evident in the growing pressure by some parents urging school districts to fast-track a full reopening of face-to-face learning at area schools. So far, only a handful of small schools serving younger students are running full throttle in towns such as Florida, Hancock, Otis, Sandisfield and Savoy.
Most of us with school-age offspring want to see them back in the classroom full-time. But, despite a continuing low COVID caseload in the Berkshires, a premature rush to reopen would be ill-advised at best, and potentially dangerous if upticks and spikes elsewhere in the state reach our bucolic region.
The announcement on Thursday about a North Adams school student or staffer infected with COVID-19 only underscores the point.
On the same day, the Massachusetts Department of Education reported 106 new coronavirus cases statewide among students and 57 among school staff members during the week ending Oct. 7. A total of 167 cases among students and 92 among staff members have been reported to the state since Sept. 24.
There’s no oasis, no moat protecting us in Berkshire County from this insidious virus, and even the Trump administration appears to acknowledge there will be no safe and effective vaccine before Election Day.
Even when a Food and Drug Administration- and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-endorsed vaccine is approved, too many Americans will resist getting the shots, understandably given the widespread lack of confidence in the current regime at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Still, it’s beneficial for our medium and large-size school districts to explore scenarios for a potential full reopening, when the time comes, perhaps in February if the state manages to roll back a second wave of COVID-19 and if the influenza season is mild.
Starting next Wednesday, middle and high school students in Pittsfield can attend some classes in person two to three days a week on a rotating schedule, with remote instruction included five days a week. Elementary students will split every school day between face-to-face instruction and remote learning. It’s another variation on the widely used hybrid model at most of our county schools.
In Lenox, some parents and School Committee members are exploring full-time reopening by forming a “task force” for a deep dive into the logistics and the safety concerns. It’s good to know that Molly Rivest, a medical professional who’s also a Lenox parent, is part of the reopening committee.
Other county school districts serving K-12 students are continuing various approaches to full-time remote or hybrid combinations.
The missing piece of the puzzle is frequent testing of all students and staff, presumably through one of the relatively reliable Rapid Tests offered by Abbott Labs, for example. The limits on testing continue to be frustrating, and our state is still far from where it should be on widespread availability for people who may not have symptoms but could be harboring the virus and thus be contagious.
The bottom line: Tap the brakes gently on the accelerator and don’t speed up the return to “pre-COVID times,” as if that’s even achievable in the foreseeable future. Patience is in short supply, but it remains crucial as we continue to battle through the worst, most widespread health emergency any of us can remember.