The last month or so
I haven’t been keeping exact track, but our first-grader has been in quarantine four (or five?) times in the past month or so. Each time, a teacher or fellow student tested positive with COVID-19, and we had to take her to get her tested – once at the beginning of each quarantine period, and once at the end.
The first two times, the government permitted the parents of schoolchildren to agree to a “green classroom” policy, which allowed all children that tested negative to continue attending school, if all of the parents agreed to this. However, this policy was changed for some reason, and “green classrooms” became a thing of the past. After those two quarantine periods, our daughter had to stay home, as did we.
By the way, even the “green classroom” quarantines were challenging because they required waiting in long lines to get tested, and testing sites all operate at different hours. For us, without a car, this required a lot of shuttling back and forth in taxis and waiting outside – sometimes in the cold. Certainly this is hardly the end of the world, but it was very time consuming and inconvenient.
Also, as the Omicron COVID-19 variant spread, the lines became longer, and the tests became increasingly more difficult to register for and receive. At a certain point, the government, if I understand correctly, determined that antigen tests would be sufficient because PCR tests had become so challenging to come by. Parents with multiple children were finding their daily schedules consumed with getting all of their children tested – maintaining a routine was becoming untenable.
It so happened that my wife had to travel abroad this week, leaving me alone with our daughter in Jerusalem.
On Sunday, the girl finally returned to school following her last quarantine, after testing negative for COVID-19 (again) at the entrance to the school building. Wonderful, I thought. On Monday, she again went to school, and I again went to work. I dared hope (foolishly) that she might make it through the entire week without being consigned to quarantine again.
Then we got the message that a staff person at her afterschool program had tested positive, and even though she had been picked up early by a friend’s parent (and had no actual contact with that individual), she was once again quarantined. This was very frustrating because it meant that I would be single-parenting her full-time at home for several days.
Furthermore, as of the previous week, we already knew that Israel’s quarantine rules for children were going to be changed (again) to allow for children that tested positive at home to come to school… but this change was only going to be implemented today – Friday. Essentially, due to fairly arbitrary and inconsistent government policies, she could go to school today, but she couldn’t go to school yesterday, and this had nothing to do with her antigen test results, which were negative in both cases.
To infinity… (and beyond?)
So, as of today, Israeli schoolchildren are required to take antigen tests at home on Sunday and Wednesday mornings every week, and if they test negative, they may continue attending school. Of course, who the heck knows how long this policy is going to last.
The head of one of the country’s largest teachers unions (Yaffa Ben David) has been on a public crusade against this policy, which is also very arbitrary, asking why quarantine has only been rescinded for schoolchildren. She has noted that if doing away with quarantine was healthy, the government would have gotten rid of it across the board: “They are leaving teachers exposed” (she’s right).
While I do feel bad for the teachers, I also feel that we must learn to live with COVID-19, and, from all the media I’ve read and listened to, the Omicron variant appears to be less lethal than those that came before it. Catching Omicron is something akin to catching the flu… and, if that’s actually the case, I don’t think that sending schoolchildren into quarantine every week would do anybody a service, especially not the children themselves.
My wife and I have been been vaccinated against COVID-19 three times, and our daughter is due for her second vaccination shot next week, which is to say that we have been taking and continue to take COVID-19 seriously. However, there simply must be some limit to the disruptions imposed upon us by the government – previous approaches were unsustainable.
While I can’t possibly know what to expect, in terms of further COVID-19 mutations and the government’s potential responses to future developments, I feel that life must be allowed to go on – to the greatest extent possible. In fact, I agree with Ms. Ben David, but I would argue her point in the opposite direction: if Israeli schoolchildren are going to be exempted from quarantines, all residents of Israel should be too.
I’m very thankful that no more quarantines await our daughter in the foreseeable future… and I greatly hope it stays that way.