BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 10: Children wearing protective face masks arrive for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on August 10, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Classes at schools across Germany are beginning this month with face mask requirements varying by state. Coronavirus infection rates are climbing again in Germany, from an average of 400 new cases per day about two weeks ago to over 1,100 yesterday, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

A year ago, I could not wait to send my son back to school.

In-person education was opening up for the first full year since COVID-19 shut it all down in the spring of 2020. I did have some trepidation about my second grader, who at the time was unvaccinated, sitting in a building breathing around strangers after spending first grade sequestered in my living room waving at people on Zoom. But he needed people who were not me. He needed, as all of us did, to enter the weird post-COVID world and try to figure out how to navigate it. And honestly, I was still freelancing and working at home and really, really needed him to go back, for both our sakes. Because we were on each other’s nerves.

I felt OK about his reentry into school. There were mask mandates, and most people seemed to believe that the pandemic was still an urgent threat requiring caution and, in some cases, inconvenience. But there is no post-COVID world. I don’t think there ever will be, because even as numbers in the state trend up, so many have given up on trying to stop it.

The mask mandates are mostly gone, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance keeps getting less strict, for reasons that seem to be less about keeping people healthy and more getting people to leave the house and spend money while pretending COVID is nothing to fear. The philosophy seems to be to do what you think is best because many, although not all of us, are vaccinated, and there’s a lesser chance of death or serious illness.

Even if that means acting like we’re in a post-COVID world, which we are not.

So, this is the world that I’m sending my son back to school in. Baltimore City Public Schools no longer has mask mandates, although they are still welcome at his specific school, and there is still regular testing and guidance. But in general society, we’ve lost that sense of urgency that we had to do something about this. I have traveled extensively this summer, and from airplanes to trains to restaurants and concerts, we seem to be in a mass delusion that COVID is over if we just all believe it is.

And that’s dumb. Like clapping for Tinkerbell to live, but instead of reviving a fairy, we’re just consenting to get a STILL POTENTIALLY DEADLY VIRUS so we can get brunch indoors without a mask.

There are alternatives to traditional in-person school, such as home schooling or virtual education, which more families are doing since the start of COVID because they’re anxious about the virus. But that does not work for me, a single mother who needs to work outside the home and didn’t win the Mega Millions prize to pay for someone to teach my kid full-time or monitor him as he learns virtually. And even if I could do those things, I don’t think I would, because I want my son learning from trained teachers and virtual learning didn’t work for him. He was distracted, lonely and missed human connection, but he thrived last year when he returned to the classroom. It was better for him academically and emotionally, and better for us a family.

If only there wasn’t that pesky virus. That is not over. And it will never be if we don’t start taking it more seriously, but I fear that bird has flown.

So here we are, going into our third year of this thing, with our kids sitting for hours in classrooms with other kids and with teachers, who don’t have to be masked. I won’t even have brunch inside, but I’m gonna send my kid back to those conditions. I love his school and I trust his educators, but COVID doesn’t care about that.

We, as a society, have decided that’s OK. It’s not.

I’m doing what I can. But I still feel like a bad parent sometimes because I know this could be potentially harmful, but I don’t know what else to do. Some of you are going to tell me that I’m succumbing to fear, and that this is just how we live now, and it’s just the flu. It’s not the flu. It’s not over. So I guess that, as a family, we just have to double mask, stay current on vaccines and not plan anything we aren’t willing to reschedule or miss if we test positive again.

Because we have once, and we’re probably going to again. I’m not cool with that. But there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about that.

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