At the start of summer, it seemed I would be writing a joyous “back to school!” blog about the successful reopening of schools for the fall thanks to vaccines and the drastic decline of COVID in most states. Apparently I was not alone in my optimism, as the back to school commercials this year show excited children finally reuniting in person with teachers and friends after shopping indoors, unmasked. Yet here we are, at the end of August, and that optimism has been replaced by uncertainty.
Will all children be able to return to in-person schooling? Will masks be required? For those in districts that are holding in-person school without mask mandates, what about immunocompromised kids, or those with vulnerable family members? Should parents restructure their work yet again to accommodate for at-home learning? Will teachers need to brace for virtual lessons? This unease may be dredging up the anxiety created in the last year and a half, anxiety that was starting to finally let go for many families.
Here’s what we do know: the Delta variant is now the dominant strain in the US. It is causing an increase in cases throughout the country, with especially dangerous spikes in areas with low vaccination. It is much more infectious than previous strains and can even be transmitted between vaccinated people. Children also seem to be more affected by Delta. In terms of school, we know that kids’ learning fell way behind last year, largely due to remote learning. And those who are already impacted by wealth and learning gaps fell the furthest behind. Perhaps more importantly, the emotional wellbeing and physical safety of kids was greatly impacted by staying home from school. For the sake of learning, health, safety, social emotional wellbeing, and equity, kids need to be in school. But will it be safe to return in the unknown Delta environment?
We also know, however, that vaccines are working. The vast majority of new cases in this Delta surge are among unvaccinated people. Of those “breakthrough cases” who get Delta after vaccination, they are far less likely to experience serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Most are asymptomatic or have mild cold-like symptoms. School children aged twelve and up are eligible for vaccination, and those two and older will likely be able to get the jab in the coming months. We have also seen from other countries with Delta — like India and the UK — that Delta seems to taper off for some unknown reason. It rips through countries quickly for a few months and then dies down. It is possible that this surge will slow down on its own. And finally, unlike last school we already know how to limit transmission through air quality, social distancing, and — perhaps most importantly — masks.
So, despite the risks, the unknowns, and the stress you may be feeling, there is reason to hope! One effective way to cope with stress and uncertainty is to be prepared for the things you can control. Here’s what’s on our mind for this year’s back to school preparations:
prioritize mental health
As we face new changes and continue reevaluating our COVID boundaries, we will experience stress. Many of us will have an uptick in feelings of anxiety and depression as well. Take the time now to establish self-care as part of your routine, so that you can continue it through the year without as much thought. Not sure what self-care might look like? These can all help lower stress and improve inner peace:
- Time outdoors
- Movement / exercise
- Mindful breathing and/or meditation
- Scheduled quiet time for naps, reading, etc.
- Practicing gratitude
- Connecting with a friend or loved one
- Eating a relaxed meal
- Relaxation apps
With COVID stress and last-minute decisions on your plate, your brain is likely feeling a bit full, if not overflowing. Take a load off your mind by setting up helpful organizational systems to keep track of your schedule, medical needs, and belongings. Set up reminders on your phone or keep a daily planner handy. Invest in a nice bag or backpack so that you always have your gear with you on the go. Be sure it has ample pockets so that each item has its own easy-to-find place, rather than rummaging around in a pile of your things.
play it safe
Other than getting vaccinated, the best way you can keep your school safe is by masking up. Make sure you have lots of masks ready to go before school starts. Want to maintain your sense of style? Get a variety of colors to go with each outfit! And don’t forget to stock your backpack with hand sanitizer.
Check out the Mighty Well Mask here!
Whatever this new school year brings, remember that we are resilient, we know how to beat this, and we’re all here to support one another ♡