Faith over fear? Yes, but the fear is still real

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Posted August 3, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

Back in April when our lives were just beginning to change because of the coronavirus, my neighbor Nancy Bierma stopped by one day with a gift.  It was one of those signs that have become common in yards across the community and the country. “Faith over Fear,” it reads. We were grateful for the comforting gesture, and it’s been displayed in our front flower bed ever since.

It seems like a lot longer than four months since that day. Phrases like social distancing and mask mandates and positivity rates that we didn’t have a clue about at the outset of 2020 are now part of our everyday lexicon, part of our everyday routine. My face mask is as much a part of my daily attire now as my shoes or my shirt. Who knew that just going out to dinner would become a potentially risky proposition? Any outside seats available?

So here we are. August is upon us, and we’re no better off. If anything, the virus has gained ground. We’re seeing more cases of coronavirus pretty much everywhere. I know four couples in my immediate circle of friends who have contracted the virus. They all say the same thing. This IS NOT the flu. And, they’ve never had anything like it. They’ve been bedridden and visited the ER. They’re recovering, but it’s been a long, horrible slog to recovery.

Faith over fear. Despite the recent spike in cases here in Marion County, across Florida and across the nation, I think most of us have faith there will be a vaccine, hopefully sooner than later. I think most of us have faith that if we contract the virus we will survive. (We have to think that, don’t we?)

But this week teachers go back to work getting ready to re-open our schools. They’ll have three weeks to figure out how to maintain social distancing and keep masks on our children in classrooms and hallways where doing either will be a challenge, to say the least. Oh, and they also have to keep kids focused on learning in the midst of a global crisis.

Disclosure: I’m married to a 20-year veteran of Marion County Public Schools. While she is a woman of faith – as, I suspect, are most of her colleagues – make no mistake, there is genuine fear about what they are about to undertake.

There are about 43,000 students enrolled in Marion County’s Public Schools. About three-fourths of them, give or take, are expected to show up at brick-and-mortar schools on Aug. 23, the first day of school. There are so many questions.

Will there be enough soap and hand sanitizer? Can custodial staffs actually keep the schools clean enough? Will students adhere to social distancing and face mask rules? What happens if a student turns up positive for the virus? What happens if the virus begins running through our teaching corps, about one-third of whom are over the age of 50? What about the buses where there is no way to social distance?

Yes, there is fear, whether anyone is expressing it publicly.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had this to offer: He would have no problem sending his children to public schools when they reopen … if they were school-aged, that is. Pretty safe pronouncement, don’t you think?

The School Board is doing what it can – or at least saying what it must — to make teachers and students feel safe returning to schools. But let’s face it, when over the past several months have there been large congregations of people that didn’t end up in outbreaks of COVID-19? Spring break partying in South Florida? Outbreak. Funerals in Georgia? Outbreak. Political rallies? Outbreak. Recent history suggests our schools could be a ticking time bomb if everyone doesn’t do their part.

Of course, because we don’t know what the virus can do to children gathered in large numbers, opening the schools is a gamble our leaders think is necessary to reboot the economy. But rest assured, there is fear enveloping the prospect of hundreds of children packed into the neighborhood school for six hours a day. Would you want to be in that cafeteria at lunchtime?

That fear is evident in the voices and on the faces of our school leaders. Because, as new Superintendent of Schools Diane Gullet told me, “We just don’t know what we don’t know.”

The big fear, at this point, is that teachers will contract the virus from asymptomatic youngsters, who might also carry it home to parents and grandparents. If too many teachers get sick, or just test positive, they will be quarantined — and who is going to teach our children? Just like the hundreds of local doctors, who beseeched the Ocala City Council and Marion County Commission to enact a mask mandate, warned: if too many health care workers get sick, if too many teachers get sick, who is going to nurse us back to health and who is going to teach our children – in person or virtually? That’s the fear.

So, I’ve got faith we’ll get through this pandemic. What I fear is that my wife and her colleagues, packed into schools with hundreds of youngsters who think they’re invincible and immune, will get sick or worse.

Yeah, faith over fear. I have faith. But the fear is undeniable and more real than ever.

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