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My Germ-Infested Preschool Is Going to Give My Kid The Coronavirus. What Should I Do?

A dad worried about the coronavirus finds their preschool's cleanliness suddenly lacking.

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Goodfather,

I’m a little germophobic right now. Me and the rest of the world, right coronavirus? Nope! My kid’s preschool doesn’t seem to have got the message. The place isn’t like filthy but they are pretty sloppy with precautions. The school offers half-assed information about what they’re doing to keep kids safe. It all boils down to — not too much at all. No handwashing classes, no extra cleaning, no nothing but the information they copy and pasted from the state health site. I know there are only three cases in my state! Let’s keep it that way! 

On top of that, the parent group for the school is full of people who like to share coronavirus tips from homeopaths — and for some reason think now is the time to brag about how they skipped this year’s flu shot. Then, there are the kids. My little girl washes her hands. With soap. For twenty seconds. She sings the handwashing songs and is proud of it. Other kids? Let’s just say I saw a kid throwing a tantrum about not wanting to wash his hands at all. I had to leave before I saw where that battle went. It’s too much. What do I do? Is it time to quarantine my kid and ride this whole thing out?

Nervous in New York

Fatherly IQ
  1. Do you plan on sending your kids back to school this fall?
    Yes. I trust that our schools are taking precautions.
    No. We don't feel that proper precautions are in place.
    I'm not sure yet. It depends on how things progress.
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So, let’s take a deep breath (but not next to anyone who appears to be sick) and think rationally about all of this for a moment. As parents, we need to treat the threat of coronavirus the same way we would treat any other threat to our children’s health and safety. The response we choose should balance the potential risks against what we know is best for our child. After all, we expose our children to health threats every single day, simply by living our lives. It’s just that those threats are not as novel, or as amplified in the media, as Covid-19.  

If we look at our workaday risk with a bit of emotional distance, we’ll see that your kid has a better chance of being killed or injured than a vehicle on a daily basis than they do of being harmed by the coronavirus. But you manage those risks through car seats, traffic awareness education and helmets. And if we want to compare viruses to viruses, frankly the flu is far more of a threat to your child, but it’s one that can be managed when the flu vaccine is dialed in.  

I use those examples to illustrate my central message to you: when it comes to the risks we allow our kids to take, we can only manage what we can control. From your message, it appears that you’re feeling a bit out of control. And that’s frightening, particularly when it comes to your kid. So your inclination is to withdraw to a place where you can control all the factors.

But would that be a good idea? There’s a lot to consider. Would you be able, financially, to keep your child at home? Can you provide the care? Can you miss that much work? After all, we don’t know how long the threat will last in New York. If you’re not the one providing care, who is? And can you control their level of exposure to coronavirus outside your home? 

The more you think about what quarantining your child actually means, the more complicated it becomes. How will you ensure they continue to have social interaction? How will you make sure the experience of isolation isn’t even more frightening to them than simply living their lives in the age of Covid-19?

So, then, what are you to do? Just hope for the best? No. Look at the variables that you can control and be prepared. 

It’s great that your kid washes her hands. That’s a fine first step, but there is more you can control to better protect your home from viral infection. For instance, you can set up hot zones in entry point around your home or apartment where commonly touched school gear is placed before coming into the interior of the house. Make sure school clothes and shoes are removed and folders, binders, backpacks, books, and lunchboxes are sanitized. You can teach your kid fist bump in lieu of hugs and handshakes. You can teach them to hit elevator buttons with their knuckles and cover coughs and sneezes. 

In terms of coronavirus preparation, you can stock up on essentials that would get you through a two-week quarantine if someone in your home got sick. That means buying a few extra rolls of toilet paper on your weekly shopping trips, or a few more boxes of mac and cheese and an extra jar or two of peanut butter. You don’t have to go full doomsday prepper to get this stuff done. 

As far as your school is concerned, there is nothing wrong with being vocal. Tell them your concerns and then keep telling them your concerns. If nothing changes, bring your concerns to the state health department. If you keep this stuff in and withdraw from the world, then you are almost guaranteed that nothing will change. To get greased, those wheels have got to squeak.     

Please remember, when it comes to this coronavirus, it does not appear that children are at a particularly high risk of death or injury. The risk appears to be higher for adults, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. If we want to manage risk to the best of our ability we have to make sure that we have the best information possible. To that end, I’d encourage you to keep an eye on the CDC’s coronavirus website. It will offer the most up-to-date information about the spread of the disease, prevention and how to respond appropriately. 

Look, our families have the misfortune of living through some pretty interesting times. Our children are looking to our own responses to understand how they should feel about things. If we show them panic, they will feel destabilized. If we show them reasonable dispassionate concern, thoughtful action, and dogged prevention, they will feel safe. 

I don’t know how this will all shake out. But I do know we need to keep our wits about us, for our own sanity and for the sake of our children too.