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Reopening The Schools

There was a recent editorial in our newspaper about the importance of reopening the schools. It touched on a couple of points that I thought should be repeated. First, this is probably the most important issue we will face during the coronavirus pandemic; and secondly, even if you don’t like the governor, his linking the matter of reopening schools to the spread of the disease makes sense.

Let’s face it, getting kids back in school is more important than opening restaurants or bars. It is more important than whether the Bills or Sabres have a season. Our kids are suffering from not having schools open. In reopening schools there is obviously always going to be some risk. Though risk can’t be eliminated, it can be reduced if the community takes a proactive role in controlling the spread of the disease.

Can you imagine what would happen if schools open and then kids go home every day into a community where the virus is spreading like wildfire? They would just take that back to school the next day, and things would get a lot worse.

There was a good news program on TV last week about how masks are helping contain the spread of the disease in Japan. There were cameras showing hundreds of people getting on a train or walking down the sidewalk in Tokyo — everyone had a mask on! In Japan, even during the regular flu season, people “mask-up.” It is not a forced thing, it has become a common behavior.

When I was stationed in Japan many years ago while in the Navy, one thing became quickly apparent to me — the Japanese were much better at following such rules than we Americans were. They had been living in close proximity with each other for centuries. Houses were small, streets were narrow, people didn’t have much “elbow room.” Their culture had engrained in them that rules were needed in order to provide space, privacy and safety in a highly dense, very confining environment.

On the other hand, we Americans are individualists. We were brought up on the idea that we are on the frontier, the land is big, and we can do what we want. It therefore is much harder for us to accept community-wide rules when it comes to fighting something like COVID-19. We close things down, then open them up too early, then everyone scrambles and tries to blame the other guy (or other state) for the troubles of disease transmission.

What this pandemic is teaching us, is that with something like this, we have to accept common restrictions on our behavior. The biggest challenge, in addition to maintaining proper distance from each other, is wearing a mask to reduce transmission. It runs against our nature. Such a rule is not a part of our culture.

What may change that for us, is the opening of the schools. Educating our youth is such an important matter for us as a nation, that it has the potential of changing our collective behavior.

If the schools are going to open and remain open, the community will have to keep the transmission of this disease under control. Absent the development of a proven vaccine, the matter of proper distancing and wearing a mask must become a common practice, or the reopening of our schools will likely fail.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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