This is Men Yell at Me, a newsletter that explores the intersection of politics and power in red-state America. If you like it, consider subscribing. If you hate it, you can subscribe too.
One week into school, and my phone is vibrating with messages. My neighbor texts to tell me that a kid in her daughter’s class is sick, but the parents aren’t testing, and no one has told the school. She’s panicking and trying to find tests, but the rapid tests are too expensive for her. The take-home tests from the Department of Public Health take 3-5 days. Her doctor won’t test without symptoms. Does she send her daughter to school? I don’t know, I tell her. I know she has to work.
The next day, a parent whose kids are supposed to play with mine lets me know that she has a sick kid. A fever. We can still come over, she tells us. “Thank you for letting me know,” I write back. “Did you test?”
“For what?” she replies.
We don’t go to the playdate.
The next day, my son has a birthday party to go to. The mom sends me a message. More sick kids. I ask about testing. No, no testing. But they’ll keep the sick ones away. The party is indoors and outdoors. I choose to keep him home, and he cries.
On Monday, as my son leaves for school and to spend two days at his dad’s house, he tells me he has a headache. I panic and try to start buying tests. Stores are out of rapid tests in town. I spend $300 buying some online, knowing full well this isn’t an option for most families. People on the internet tell me I can drive 45 minutes to the University of Iowa to get a rapid test. Other tests from the grocery store or the Department of Health take 3-5 days. How is this possible if you work all the time? How is this feasible for families without access or money or health insurance?
The next day, my son comes down with a cold. His dad keeps him home, but he doesn’t agree with me about testing. I’ve been parenting in a pandemic with someone who doesn’t agree with me on most things related to health care. I’m feeling worn down about the careful dance I have to do through the dissonance and the politics. Every day I have to do a kind of math that no scientist or statistician is doing, calculations no one ever taught me how to do: Are the things I’m asking my family to do to protect their lives going to emotionally tear us apart? And what’s the cost? Is it more likely they’ll die? Or more likely that they’ll have long-term resentments?
At some point, this late summer, all those calculations made me realize I cannot control what’s happening. I cannot protect against the variables. And that, at some point, my children would get sick.
Iowa schools cannot mandate masks. In many schools, there aren’t many online options. Many districts are not contact tracing. Testing is haphazard and inaccessible. Governors, state lawmakers, local city councils, county supervisors, school boards, everyone has failed, so parents are now the last line of defense against a pandemic.
Hot girl summer has transitioned into tired mom fall.
Because of the cost and pressures of childcare, women are continuing to leave the workforce in record numbers. If you are tired of hearing about it, imagine how tired we are of living it. And even now that schools are open, working is still complicated when you can’t even plan a day in advance. Cases among children are rising. Children under 12 still cannot get vaccinated. And even now, only a third of eligible children are vaccinated. In Iowa, you can send children back to school if they no longer have symptoms, but that’s not good health policy. Some districts don’t even have to quarantine. The entire plan is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was a huge failure.
And other states aren’t as lenient. Back to school now means masks and tests, which not everyone can access or afford.
School boards across the nation have too easily capitulated to the astroturfing campaigns of anti-maskers. This means that hospitals are exhausted and full. A Connecticut hospital put out a plea to protect kids.
In response, I am reassured that most children will not die. Most children will not be hospitalized. Most children will be okay. But what about the ones who aren’t? We have tools to keep them safe, and we refuse to use them just because most of the rich, white kids with parents with healthcare are going to be fine? That’s supposed to be my solace as a parent?
One percent of death is a lot of death when it’s one percent of the entire population.
Not every school district is like this. LA Unified is following the example of some schools in New York and Chicago, requiring vaccination of the staff and weekly screening. Simple safety measures will not prevent all disease, but it will cut back on so much missed school, infection, lost income, and hospital bills.
The reality is, we do not have to be here. And a lot of school districts are not. But the haphazard response means that the inequality in America will further entrench itself into the lives of our children.
We don’t have to be here. But here is where we are.
Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email, sent on Wednesdays, which includes interviews, essays, and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks, and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics, food, dogs, our bodies, and more.