Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Do I want to see kids going back to school? You bet!

We can all see how difficult remote learning has been for kids and parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am awed and grateful for the huge efforts teachers, school staff and administrators are making to ensure the return to school is as safe as possible.

But I also want the schools to stay open. We have seen schools and colleges around the country open, only to have to shut down again quickly after there is an outbreak.

Why does this happen? Perhaps it is magical thinking, that “COVID won’t get me!” Or perhaps it is lack of trust in the experts who are telling us this virus is very contagious and advising us to mask and distance. Or perhaps it is because many people value their right to do whatever they choose and not be told what to do about the health and safety of themselves or others. ​

We have recently seen how a few people who decided the recommendations didn’t apply to them at a Millinocket-area wedding and reception cost one woman her life (and, she didn’t even attend the party) and sickened more than 120 people so far.

We will not escape the same fate unless we are all determined to work together for the best interest of our community and our children.

I believe all people in this community care about our kids and want this school reopening to be successful. But it is only going to work and be safe for students and teachers if everyone, everyone takes personal responsibility not only to keep ourselves safe but also to protect others. Not just in school but outside of school too. That means not only teachers and administrators, but also food service employees, custodians, ed techs, bus drivers, parents and students. Everyone.

Wearing a mask during school hours will not be effective, if, after school kids get together with friends to shoot hoops without masks; or if teachers or parents or bus drivers go to social gatherings unmasked and without distancing.

I was dismayed recently to see a group of people, including some who are directly involved in getting kids back to school, standing close together and maskless in a parking lot. They were laughing and chatting as if there never had been such a thing as COVID-19. They looked as though the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for masks and distancing don’t apply to them.

While they might well plan to wear masks during school time, there are no “school hours” and no “off hours” as far as the epidemic is concerned. Let’s all remember that it matters if kids get back to school. It is a high priority.

Ask yourself: “I have the freedom of choice, so what choices can I make to ensure school reopenings are successful?”

Lesley Fernow of Dover-Foxcroft is a retired internist and part of Neighbor to Neighbor, a local group working to support COVID-related needs in the regional communities.