Here we are, sitting on the cusp of schools starting again and a debate is still raging on so many levels about how schools of all sorts are going to move forward. Rather than enter that debate and rehash everything everyone has already said (and sadly there is lots of saying and not a great deal of listening going on), I am just going to look at our own situation and trace the ripple effect we are going to need to consider in our home and at the Genuine Faux Farm.
As always, I am not really concerned that those who read this feel 'sorry' for us. That is NOT the point. I am using our example to make a larger point that educators, school staff, students and their families are right to be concerned - and that concern is not just for themselves.
Why am I doing this particular post? Two reasons:
1. We need to consider the safety of our customers. It is our responsibility to look ahead at possible problems and be prepared for them - and we prefer to communicate our reasons and how we plan to address things.
2. I made a comment that I thought we were not ready to re-open schools. I was told I was being selfish.
For those who do not know, Tammy and I operate the Genuine Faux Farm, which produces vegetables and poultry (meat and eggs). We sell direct to individuals and we also sell to the kitchens at Jorgensen Plaza in Cedar Falls. Tammy is a professor of Social Work at Wartburg College. Rob also works for Pesticide Action Network. Rob's job is remote. Tammy's, as of this moment, is scheduled to return to (adjusted) face to face learning in late August.
That should be plenty to be getting on with...
The College Petri Dish
Between the two of us, we have many years of experience where one, the other, or both of us have taught in post-secondary institutions. We are both reminded every year what it means to be a young adult as we watch (and try to guide) college students as they navigate all of the new experiences that come their way. College students have blind spots that have nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with personal development and experience. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to do things that seem careless or uncaring. Some few of them will blatantly decide there is not a problem and ignore all precautions while others will diligently follow all guidelines. In short, they are just like the rest of us!
The biggest difference is that the younger and healthier individuals are more likely to be asymptomatic when it comes to COVID-19. Add in normal human blind spots, mistakes, predispositions and occasional carelessness. Voila! The likelihood that there will be some level of outbreak at any college/university is going to be pretty high. And I don't think it is all that far afield to extrapolate the same logic for any other school system that gathers children from many families together and then sends them back home each day.
Bringing It On Home
Tammy has been teaching at Wartburg since the Fall of 2004. Every year, the student body runs through cycles of various illnesses that are going to be spread for all of the reasons any disease goes through a population. Every year, she does what she can to stay healthy and not add her name to the list of people who have succumbed to whatever crud is going around this time. She does this while working hard to help her students to learn to become excellent Social Workers. She does this while serving as an advisor and while facilitating numerous experiences that improve student experience. She is just like so many other professors at small colleges who care very much for their students and work very hard on their behalf. I am proud of her and what she does.
Every year, at some point, she gets caught by one of the contagions that are going around.
Every year, something Tammy brings home also catches up to Rob.
Here's Where We Are Selfish?
Apparently, this is where we are selfish. Neither of us wants to contract COVID-19. How dare we put our health in a prominent position? After all, students are desperate for face to face interaction and instruction. Truth be told, most teachers are ALSO desperate for that as well!
Sometimes, we have to forego what we want so we can do what needs to be done. We are fortunate to live in a time where we have so much technology that can be used to connect us when we need to reduce physical contact and increase physical distance. So, I don't buy the argument that we can't figure out ways to deal with the social discomfort and shortcomings that physical distancing brings about. And I don't buy that Tammy and I should be willing to experience COVID-19 so people can get the face to face experience they want at this moment.
But, that's not the whole picture. This is not just about us.
Once school starts, we will be even less able to visit family because it will be that much more likely that we may become carriers of COVID-19. This will be true for anyone else who is an educator at any level. Whether each educator realizes this and acts on it or not is another matter. But, again, that is not the point. The point is that educators will have to isolate themselves even more from family and personal support networks that they might have been able to enjoy during the past few months. Considering how hard teachers work during the school year, I suppose that might not be so different for many of them.
This is where we remind everyone that most of us have fairly complex networks of personal interaction. Teachers and professors have religious, professional and personal affiliations outside of school. If the teacher gets sick, and they are not aware that they are sick, they can potentially spread it to those networks, to their families, to other teachers and to their students.
Now, tell me again how selfish teachers are when they say they are worried that face to face instruction might cause them to become another number in the COVID-19 count. Is it allowed that they be worried for their own health? Of course it is. Does it make it more acceptable if they are ALSO worried about the health of their family, their students, their students' families and anyone else with whom they might have contact? And, why should they have to justify this concern for health and safety? Shouldn't we be able to show that the threat is removed or controlled before we push them into the classroom just to see if it won't be quite as bad as some people fear?
Genuine Faux Farm's Preparation to Respond
Not everyone has to consider food safety and pandemic safety as a small farm like ours does. Our customers consist of people from all risk categories. We always take food safety and customer health seriously. It is only natural that we will adjust what we do to protect our customers from potential infection of COVID-19. This is what it means to be responsible.
We will continue to maintain 'no contact' food deliveries. We will continue to abide by food safety guidelines and we will continue to adjust as the situation warrants.
However, should the ripples of COVID-19 reach the shores of our farm. We will cease deliveries until we are cleared as having survived the virus.
Let that sink in.
Crops that ripen during the time we are ill will not be harvested UNLESS we, ourselves, are going to eat it. And this is assuming we feel well enough to go get it. So, assuming we are out for the minimum quarantine time, we lose at least two weeks of production that would otherwise be available for sale.
If we fall ill at a point when we are supposed to be taking turkeys or broilers to "the Park." We will either have to hire someone else to do it if we think we can safely do so or we will try to reschedule. Why? Because we are not going to be responsible for bringing this virus to those who work at Martzahn's.
Once cleared, we will re-sanitize anything that was in our environs while we were ill or that we may have touched. We will be overly cautious so that we will not pass anything on to anyone else. Then, we will move on and make the best of it.
And that's a plan we don't want to be forced to implement.
Everyone Is A Link
Everyone is a link to some other group of people. There is a ripple effect for each person that becomes ill that impacts another group of people.
One teacher has a spouse who is a manager at a local restaurant. The restaurant does carry-out menus right now and is doing what it can to safely serve customers and protect workers. The teacher becomes ill. The manager of the restaurant becomes ill. The restaurant may be forced to shut down. The employees of the local restaurant are looking at no income again. Perhaps the entire staff will half to isolate for two weeks. Etcetera etcetera.
Another teacher is the primary care-giver for a special needs child. Who cares for this child when this teacher becomes ill? If the child becomes ill, will that child survive?
We Are Better Than This
There are people who are becoming very creative with reasonably good solutions right now and we should applaud and support those efforts. There are many who have created 'social bubbles' with members who interact with each other (as a family might) and limit their interactions outside of that bubble. We can figure this out and make some good things happen.
While we are at it, those of us who are privileged enough to be reasonably healthy and have secure resources to support our little bubbles need to find ways to encourage and support those who do not.
If we are going to provide face to face instruction, we should focus on those who are less able to survive with distance only education. Children with different abilities may truly need the face to face interaction. We need to support building bubbles so they can get that interaction. Households that are still without employment and have little hope of that changing soon need to have their bills covered so they can concentrate on building social bubbles, adjust to new circumstances and have a clear mind to see where they might be able to go next.
Every day, I learn how someone else's circumstance is different and it requires some adjustments to make life more livable.
And this is why I am "selfish." I am selfish because I think we can do a better job protecting everyone else if we deny ourselves some things we want very much. And, we give ourselves the things we really need.