This morning on my way home from my overnight ER shift, I got a call from my 10-year-old son. He said “Hi Mom. My throat hurts.” Normally, when I get a call like this, I say something to the effect of “I’m so sorry that you’re not feeling well. But you shouldn’t miss camp for a sore throat. Get all ready and I’ll be home in a few minutes to say goodbye.” But this morning was very different. I have spent almost every waking moment of the last few weeks immersed in a document in which I and 18 other volunteer physician parents advise the yeshivot on how to open safely this coming year. We mulled over every possible scenario. And now, this morning, with that one little sentence, “Mom, my throat hurts,” it all came to life for me. If this morning were a school morning in the upcoming 2020-21 school year, this is what my response would have to be: “Oh, your throat hurts? You’ll stay home from school today. And tell your sister and brothers that everyone is staying home today.” Additionally, if my husband were on staff at any of the yeshivot, he would be staying home today until we would have clearance that my 10-year-old is low risk for COVID-19.
Sound crazy? I know. For a moment it did to me too. Until I remembered that our world completely changed in March. I remembered that suddenly I went from seeing all sorts of patients on my ER shifts, to seeing only very sick people who were trying desperately to breathe. I remembered how the entire hospital was filled with ICU patients on ventilators, even the cafeteria. And how after one shift I signed more death certificates than I had signed in all the previous four years combined.
In March, it was clear that on-campus school had to close, and remote learning was the way to go. Since then, the number of sick COVID-19 patients in our area has gone down significantly and the ER is almost back to normal, although the virus is certainly not gone. At this point, with the numbers down, and the realization that the threat of this virus may linger for months or years, it seems like it is time to get our kids back in the school building. To do this successfully and safely takes a huge amount of work.
Our school administrators, boards, teachers and staff have already put in countless hours completely redesigning the way the buildings will look and operate to keep teachers and students safe. Physician parents volunteered their time and wrote a 30-page document outlining all medical guidelines for reopening. Our eight local yeshiva elementary schools have collaborated and signed off on these guidelines.
To my fellow parents, beloved teachers and this entire resilient community—now it is our turn. The success of this endeavor depends on us. Although the virus is not widespread here right now, it can return at any time. We don’t know if one of the next few months will, God forbid, look like this past March. This time we need to be prepared. We need to keep the whole household home whenever anyone in the house has symptoms, even if it is “just a sore throat” or even sniffles. We need to maintain our adherence to social distance and masking policies. Most importantly, we need to be honest about our symptoms and exposures, and quarantine after travel.
I hope and pray that our joint efforts in creating a school environment that is designed to keep all of us safe will result in a long and healthy school year ahead.
Dr. Nava Bak Krohn is an emergency medicine physician. She lives in Teaneck with her husband and their four children, all Yavneh Academy students.