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Op-Ed: Want Schools To Open Safely? In-School COVID Testing Is Necessary

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Scary Mommy and ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty

When Mayor Bill deBlasio announced New York City schools would reopen with new COVID testing protocols in place, reactions were mixed. Some parents were thrilled that their children would be going back. Others were thankful for the additional safety measures, but — if my school’s private Facebook page is any indication of the general consensus — most were furious. This was an infringement on their children’s rights. Their “freedoms.” In-school testing, they said, overstepped bounds. But the discussion didn’t end there. The conversation shifted from one of anger to entitlement. Many parents announced their intentions to get their (healthy) children exempt by completing medical exemption forms.

Yes, dozens of parents openly announced their plans to falsify claims.

Now I know what you’re thinking: How do I know their child is healthy? Many medical conditions are hidden. They remain unseen. And you’re right. Most diseases don’t have “a look.” But I know they were filing false forms because they were discussing the matter, publicly and openly. Parents posted links to said forms so they could figure out how to have their child excused, citing anxiety and stress. Some even said the tests could puncture their child’s nasal cavity. As if. Hell, a fellow mom told me she was worried about the testing because she didn’t know what the school would do with her child’s DNA.

Yes, really.

To say I was livid would be an understatement. Why? Because 1) their selfishness would put others at risk. 300,000 Americans have died — and millions more worldwide — from COVID-19 but what’s one more? After all, we’ve got to protect precious Timmy’s freedoms, and his nose. Because 2) in seeking a false medical exemption they would overwhelm Department of Education staffers. They would inundate workers and cause there to be a serious processing delay. And because 3) their false claims would take attention away from real ones. From the kids who truly do need exceptions and/or accommodations. And that’s bullshit.

Scratch that: It is privileged bullshit at its finest.

Of course, this isn’t the first time people have (falsely) claimed the need for a medical exemption during the COVID crisis. In June, individuals across the country began carrying face mask exemption cards, which reportedly absolved them from wearing facial coverings, masks, or shields due to mental and/or physical risk. The good news is the validity of these cards was disproven, quickly and swiftly. On June 30, the Department of Justice issued a statement regarding these cards and other like documents.

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“Cards and other documents bearing the Department of Justice seal and claiming that individuals are exempt from face mask requirements are fraudulent,” the release read. But the damage was done.

The path was paved for lies, leeway, and loopholes.

That said, there are genuine reasons why an individual should not wear a facial covering. Masks, for example, are not recommended for children under two. Individuals with severe skin conditions may find facial coverings irritating. Some deformities can make mask wearing difficult, and according to the CDC, “cloth face coverings should not be placed on… anyone who is [actively having] trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.” Those with sensory, cognitive, and/or behavioral issues may also have difficulties. And, I’m sure there are genuine reasons why an individual should be exempt from New York’s mandated COVID-19 tests.

However, the exemptions are few and far between. Implying otherwise is absurd. It’s dangerous. Skirting safety rules and regulations endangers lives. It also hurts members of the medically frail community.

It hurts your asthmatic uncle, your immunocompromised neighbor, your cancer-ridden grandmother, and your grandfather with COPD.

Are nasal swabs uncomfortable? Sure. They can be annoying, aggravating, and agitating. In some cases, COVID-19 tests have caused headaches and nosebleeds. Are masks annoying? Abso-fucking-lutely. I hate the fact that I cannot wipe my nose when I am out — or that there is a perpetual feeling of moisture on my face. My discomfort is palpable. Sometimes, I become anxious and struggle to breathe. I also hate seeing my children in masks. I mourn the loss of their childhood. Of innocence.

But we wear masks because they keep us — and others — safe. We consented to testing at school because it reduces the risk of community spread. Having accurate information is the only way to truly stay on top of the COVID crisis. And yes, we will take the vaccine when it becomes available because we care about humanity. Because we, like millions of others, want a sense of normalcy back. We want to return to “life.”

So stop with the bullshit. Stop with the lies. And stop teaching your children the rules don’t apply to them. Instead, teach them empathy, and what it means to be a good human being.

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