Monday, September 7, 2020

Bulletins From The Trailing Edge Of The Pandemic

If it can work anywhere, it can work here.

I live in a county in NW PA, with relatively small population (50K or so). And our schools are all open.

We have been subject to the same rules as the rest of the state, and like pretty much everything in PA, the folks in charge have made their rules based on Pittsburgh, Philly and Harrisburg. This is Trump country, so plenty of folks are anti-maskers, but we haven't had any of those ugly assaults. I think we benefit from one aspect of small town life-- when you meet that minimum wage worker at the door of the business, you probably already know them. Makes it marginally harder to be a jerk to them.

But mostly we've done well. We have a big branch here of UPMC (the "non-profit" health monolith that is slowly eating the entire state). Since anyone started counting, our total number of positive Covid cases has not yet hit 70, and we've had only one death. We've had many sets of days in a row with no new positives. By the figuring of the state, we are a "green" county, which means restrictions are minimal, but most local businesses remain cautious. And this is the kind of area where it's not unusual to go, say, grocery shopping and encounter only a handful of other people.

So yes. Schools are open. We have four separate districts in the county (more than necessary, but that's a discussion for another day). All are open five out of five, full days. One has switched the high school to block scheduling. All require masks, and various bits of tweaking have been applied to traffic patterns in the buildings. There are barriers, cleaners, new arrangements for lunch and recess.

A non-zero number of families are staying home and selecting from an assortment of distance learning options, but it's nothing remotely close to a majority. There may have been a few early retirements, but nothing remotely approaching a "wave," nor are local unions contemplating sick outs or strikes. Parents are encouraged to drive their kids to school, but the buses are still running. Within districts, administrators who have done a lousy job of building trust and collaboration are suffering for it; those who have done a good job are benefiting from it. Schools may or may not have solid ideas about what to do if anything goes south. Nobody has made any special effort to recruit substitute teachers, and the pay is pretty lousy for the area, so that's going to be a problem sooner or later.

A return to 100% distance learning will be a real struggle here; there are so many places where there is little or no reliable internet coverage (my old high school sits in a 1/2 bar of 3G zone) and families within the district are spread out. Okay, maybe not so much "real struggle" as "certain failure."

But mostly, school is under way (last Tuesday was the first day) and mostly, students and teachers are adjusting. School sports are happening, with a spectator limit of 250 people. My wife is a teacher in a local elementary, and I have many friends from my pre-retirement years still working. I'm holding my breath. I know that other semi-isolated rural areas have experienced sudden spikes of covid, and I have my doubts about how well-prepared anyone here is to deal with an eruption.

So I have no actual point today. Think of this as a first chapter of whatever story is going to emerge through the year, depending on what happens in the pages we haven't turned over yet I'm praying that it's a boring story.

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