As we close out the second year, we all have pandemic-era phrases that trigger us. Those words and phrases you had never heard before March of 2020 now send chills down your spine. I have a few of such phrases. “During these uncertain times.” “We are monitoring the situation closely.” And the worst one of all: “due to an abundance of caution.”
Two years in, the word “canceled” can also send me spinning into a dark place. As human beings, but even more so as parents, we have experienced an “abundance of canceling.” First, it was birthday parties, then activities and extracurriculars, then schools, then everything beyond the walls of our houses. Playgrounds were canceled for half a year. Our children’s childhoods were canceled.
Keeping Our Families Safe
These cancellations were necessary to keep our families safe. We needed them to get to where we are now in California: with over 80% of the population vaccinated and positive cases steadily dropping. We are in a new phase of the pandemic. On March 28th, masks will be recommended and not required in my children’s school district. We are slowly coming up for air.
But during this new era, we continue to see signs that people aren’t ready to move on. Bathrooms and indoor dining are still closed. “Out of an abundance of caution,” across the state of California, we are continuing to require, or strongly recommend, masks in both indoor and outdoor settings. It makes sense that people are wary. We have been burnt before. During the “hot vax summer” we were told to remove our masks only to be slammed by Delta three weeks later. We are taking off their masks this time around but keeping them in their back pockets. We’re unsure of social etiquette. We don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable in the Bay Area, so we are still acting with “an abundance of caution.”
A Minor Inconvenience
It is March of 2022. The era of “abundance” of caution needs to come to an end. The assumption that individuals and businesses make when they err on the side of caution is that there is no cost to being too cautious. But there is. Wearing masks for two weeks is a minor inconvenience. But we are now seeing the effects of two years of masking on our youngest citizens.
The first few years of a children’s life are the most important for communication and social development. Infants and toddlers learn language by watching our mouths form words and imitating us. They learn how to socialize and express emotions by watching how our faces react to stimuli. Across the United States, we now have a generation of people who spent their most formative years interacting with masked adults in all settings outside of their homes. We do not yet know how this will affect these children in the future.
Masks Weren’t Without a Cost
The masks helped to keep us safe. But they weren’t without a cost. As a society, we prioritized our health over everything else. We were right to do so. But our youngest children cannot afford for us to have an abundance of caution anymore. They need to see strangers smile at them in grocery stores. They need to see and imitate their teacher’s faces.
The pandemic introduced most of us to virtual meetings. Pre-pandemic, I can’t believe how many times I got into my car and spent an hour commuting to and from a meeting that could have easily happened through a screen. The existence and ease of remote work is a good thing. However, not everything is better experienced through a computer screen. Human relationships are still important and the best way to build them is through face-to-face interaction (preferably over cocktails.) We need to meet IRL sometimes too. As I’m looking for summer camps for my kids, I’m continuing to see lots of virtual options for the summer of 2022. Call me old-fashioned but I still think the point of camp is to get dirty playing capture the flag and then went through a water balloon fight. Virtual camps were great when there were no other options. But this summer, our kids don’t need to be indoors interacting with their peers through a screen. We need them outdoors, dirty, mask-less throwing things at each other. The time to move parties and events virtually “out of an abundance of caution” has ended.
The Correct Amount of Caution
As we move into the endemic phase of the pandemic, let’s retire the phrase “abundance of caution.” Let’s have the correct amount of caution. Let’s figure out how to keep ourselves physically safe while recognizing that our mental health matters. The healthy development of our youngest citizens matters. Face-to-face human contact matters. And water balloon fights, maskless on a hot summer day…those definitely matter.