Sunday 31.05.2020

Coronavirus: sending the kids back to school or not?

Photo: Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay.
Photo: Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay.

Like all parents, I am concerned about the current pandemic and its risks. My birth country is Italy and I naturally followed the situation dramatically unfolding there through Italian media. For this reason, my family decided to practice social isolation since few days before the Finnish government announced the schools shutdown.

I live with two children aged 4 and 7. The oldest attends preschool, while her brother is still in daycare. My husband and I both work full-time, and we used to work remotely on a regular basis even before the virus spread.

At the time of writing this, we have been isolating for two months. The kids were suddenly pulled out of their routines and social lives. Although we made an effort to explain the situation to them in an age appropriate way, they suffered for the unexpected change. It took a while for our family to find a routine that worked. For about a month in the middle of all this, our 12 year old support child came to live with us, which added a new layer of “spicy” to our new lives (parents dealing with distance learning: I see you!).

Our thinking was based on an important assumption: this virus is here to stay for the long term and a vaccine is unlikely to be developed for months

When the government announced that schools were opening again, we realised it was time to make a choice. Like everyone else we had followed the news and the reliable information sources, but we were overwhelmed by contradicting information and a constant stream of updates that contributed to create confusion and fuel our fears.

In the end, we decided to send the children back to school, even though we could afford to keep them home. Here I want to share our thought process and the resources we based our decision on.

As a first step, we listed all the questions that mattered to our family:

  • How likely it is for us parents to catch the virus?
  • What is the risk for us adults to be hospitalised or to die?
  • How likely it is for any of the children to catch it?
  • What is their risk of hospitalisation or death?
  • What is the risk for us adults to spread it to the children, and viceversa?

We also listed the benefits, risks, and issues of sending the children to school or keeping them home for few weeks still.

Our family will keep up a low-profile social life, a punitive hygiene regime, and we will limit social contact. And we will cross our fingers, since no choice is risk free

Our thinking was based on an important assumption: this virus is here to stay for the long term and a vaccine is unlikely to be developed for months. This means that we need to find ways to co-exist with the virus and reduce the risk where we can. Moreover, a second wave is likely and this time window sounds like an opportunity to live through some normalcy for them.

My husband and I compiled answers to the questions above based on the latest Rapid Risk Assessment of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. We soon realised that the risks for our family were extremely low and that the benefits of having the children reconnect with their friends and with their learning path were too valuable to dismiss.

We will stay vigilant, though. I was pleased to learn that preschool and daycare will employ some best practices to mitigate risks. Our family will keep up a low-profile social life, a punitive hygiene regime, my husband and I will maintain remote working routines, and we will limit social contact. And we will cross our fingers, since no choice is risk free.

We all feel an incredible pressure to take the best decision for our children. Every family needs to do an individual assessment. I hope sharing our experience might help you list your needs and risks, and take an informed decision you feel comfortable with.

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