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Editor’s Note: A Fall Unlike Any Other
By Lee DeOrio
Social Work Today
Vol. 21 No. 3 P. 4

Depending on where you live, the 2021 school year is going to look like the good old days. By that I mean 2019.

In-person classes with traditional “spacing” and no mask requirements won’t be out of the ordinary in many places around the country. Whether that’s a wise decision has, naturally, divided parents, teachers, school boards, and local governments. To further complicate matters, health experts aren’t unanimous on what’s the best way forward. Should vaccination rates play a role in how school districts operate? How about infection rates and how they’re trending?

Perhaps the situation at summer camps can shed light on what may happen once the first school bell sounds. In recent weeks, the Associated Press (AP) has reported a string of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to summer camps. For the most part, the cases have occurred in Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. In some cases, the outbreaks have spread from the camp to the broader community.

Considering that different camps are taking different precautions, it’s difficult to get a read on the magnitude of infections. For example, local YMCAs are reporting that some camps have had people test positive for the virus, but there have been no instances of significant spread. Many of those camps are taking precautions such as serving meals in shifts or outside and trying to keep youngsters in separate groups. Most are requiring masks indoors.

My daughter has been working at a local camp here in Pennsylvania. When I asked her to explain how this particular camp is handling the situation, one thing stood out: Rules are in place but enforcement is, shall we say, lax. For example, during recess, campers aren’t supposed to mix with other groups of campers “but kind of do.” And “we try to eat meals outside but we eat inside as well.”

Which brings us to the new school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance recently to say vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside and 3-foot distancing of desks is not necessary for the fully vaccinated. California announced that no one will miss class time even if they are exposed to someone with the virus. At the same time, all students and staff are required to wear masks while indoors.

Throughout much of the country, there’s a patchwork of rules and regulations. Will they be adhered to?

One infectious disease specialist told AP that summer camp outbreaks “certainly could be a precursor” to what happens when youngsters return to classrooms but admitted that schools tend to be more structured and disciplined than camps. Considering that we haven’t been through the aftermath of a pandemic before, social workers will be thrown into this muddled environment with no experience to lean on. It will be one of the greatest challenges of their careers.