I was once the only woman on an engineering team. I have plenty of experience with men who plan things inadvertently forgetting to consider a woman’s unique needs. As we enter the 10th month of this pandemic one thing has become glaringly obvious to me. The men “in charge” (who we elected) have not been talking to enough women. It seems they forgot to include women and children in their pandemic response planning. I don’t think it was purposeful. I don’t think it was deliberate in any way. I think we were just forgotten because a typical man’s day to day life is much different than a woman’s. This is especially true for men who grew up in a generation where women more often stayed home and the men were the breadwinners. But that 1950s era thinking is now hurting our children and putting a much undue burden on parents (disproportionately women).
At yesterday’s Maui press conference it was announced that an acceptable number of new visitor COVID19 cases per day was decided to be 10 or less. While I have no insight as to how this number was decided I do know exactly what the repercussions of this decision will be. If we have 10 new cases a day then the DOE metrics will not allow our keiki to have full face to face learning. According to the DOE metrics Maui would need to have less than 4 new cases a day to stay in the “green” and in order to have schools fully open to students. At 10 new cases a day Maui would be in “orange” which means blended learning for all students (no full time school in a classroom). Not only would we be in the orange but we would be teetering right on the edge of red. If there are community spread cases in addition to travel (which we know there will be) then we easily slip into required “learning from home” for all students.
It is not just Maui though. Hawaii's plan and metrics also gave no considerations to getting and keeping kids safely in classrooms. The state's metrics are largely based on what hospitals can theoretically handle. It was announced that as more visitors come we would be expected to see an increase in cases. The goal would be to keep them at less than 150 new cases per day. If we have 150 new cases a day then we are nowhere near the green. So the state has inadvertently planned to not get kids safely into classrooms or have in person school this year. I wrote an impassioned email to Josh Green about this a couple of months ago (stressing among other things the need for a 2 test approach to minimize the cases coming in). He responded with “Schools opening has nothing to do with tourism opening”. Of course it does! Increased travel means increased cases if we don’t have a good systematic way to minimize the cases flying in.
The huge majority of teachers are women. This plan creates a huge stress on them to “do it all” in this pandemic. The parents I know who are struggling the most right now to manage virtual school and work are almost entirely moms. Single moms are struggling the most. I have fostered children in the past and know a lot of disadvantaged youth. Most of them have not been in a classroom for over 10 months. They do not have the support system needed to succeed with virtual school. I know a very smart and outgoing 10th grader who has given up and decided to drop out of school. Distance learning was too much for her to handle.
As decisions were made and a false narrative was pushed that there are two sides “public health” and “the economy”. I largely blame the media for promoting the idea that we have to make a choice between economy and health. There are world renowned epidemiologists here in Hawaii that have created plans for a much safer reopening. Hundreds of doctors and nurses signed an open letter with clear steps for reopening while minimizing community spread. These plans all cost money and resources but they provided a much safer alternative. But these experts were told the plans were overly cautious. While the plans would keep cases much closer to zero they also take a lot of money and resources to implement. That was deemed an unnecessary expense and effort to make. Women and children were the sacrifices that were unknowingly placed on the COVID altar.
The men in charge wanted to get “people” back to work quickly and deemed the risk of a one test opening with no quarantine enforcement was worth the cost. The cost of taking more precautions was not beneficial enough. Unfortunately the “people” who can now go back to work are disproportionately men. Women in large part are the ones who have to find childcare for the workday or stay home and help kids with school INSTEAD of returning to work. Teachers are having to help their own children with school while also teaching a classroom of kids virtually. Kids need to be able to be back in the classroom full time BUT only if it can be done safely. So the DOH created metrics for the DOE to determine what disease prevalence is safe enough for getting kids into classrooms. Why were these metrics not pivotal in our reopening plan?? How do we get these men in charge to realize that our keiki and the women who support them are “worth the cost” of these extra precautions?