I sent my boys off to school this morning with little hesitation. When I heard schools were still open, I felt reassured that things weren’t so critical and, selfishly, was relieved not to have two energetic boys stuck at home.
But then I saw an image tweeted today showing an anaesthetist parent in front of Paddington Public School in NSW wearing a sign urging to keep children at home if possible. The sign read ‘Lives depend on it. Government too slow to act’.
And it’s given me food for thought.
Following a special meeting of the national cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that school excursions, assemblies and sports events would be cancelled as of March 16. Social distancing measures were to be implemented.
However, he advised that widespread school closures would not take place as they may cause more harm than good.
“When you take children out of school and put them back in the broader community, the ability for them to potentially engage with others increases that risk,” he told reporters.
“The other is the disruption impact that could put at great risk the availability of critical workers such as nurses, doctors and others who are essential in the community because they would have to remain home and look after their children.”
Undoubtedly, this is true. But seeing that image of the doctor disputing that decision, certainly made me think.
No doubt the Government decision around school closure is based on current statistics and the projected trajectory of coronavirus.
And it’s not like schools have done nothing. My kids tell me they are being asked to wash and sanitise their hands throughout the day, and year groups have been split at playtime so there is less mingling. They are not sitting in lines waiting to go back into the classrooms after recess but going straight in.
In Victoria, large government schools are introducing staggered lunch breaks and are stopping assemblies too. But is it enough?
This anaesthetist has seen firsthand the impact that such illnesses can have, and the potential it has to drain and put pressure on our health services.
He’s not basing this message on statistics, graphs or approximate projections on a whiteboard. Nor is he trying to appease people or mitigate fear. He’s simply telling it how he sees it.
His message suggests that we aren’t doing enough to protect our communities. It suggests that different measures and approaches could result in different outcomes. It has us questioning if we’re really in the know. Could things be worse than we already fear?
Of course, it’s not feasible for most of us to take our children out of school with immediate effect. It presents with a myriad of problems and, without a contingency plan in place specifically for the care of children whose parents work in healthcare, it’s not ideal.
I’m one of the lucky ones that, at a push, could keep my children at home if I either choose or need to. Aside from entertaining them and making a buffet of daily snacks, having them home wouldn’t impact me too much, given I work for myself.
Sure, my work hours would be disrupted, and I’d likely be up later as a result, but it’s far from the juggle that most parents would have.
Morrison has said that the future of schools will be discussed again on Tuesday and Friday. If his decision regarding school closure remains unchanged, I’ll continue to send my boys to school, at least for now.
However I won’t rule out changing my mind.
Two friends have already made the choice to keep their children at home because of live-in grandparents.
And an email to one mum confirming a teacher had been in close contact with someone with the virus had us all agree that school was a no go for her son.
Perhaps I’ve been a bit complacent.
If parents who are able to keep their children home do, not only could it help with the implementation and policing of social distancing, but it might also help to lower the risk of contagion and spread to others.
In fact, as the anaesthetist suggests, it might be the difference between life and death.
Jo Hartley is a freelance writer.