The euthanasia archipelago and the graduations: I will proudly wear a mandatory mask for the sake of both

I will absolutely and without complaint wear a mandatory mask and submit to a mandatory temperature check at the two Polk County graduation ceremonies (Lakeland High and Harrison) I plan to attend at this time. Here is a cold, bloodless graphic image that tells you why:

This is the “curve” of COVID-19 infection rates for skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities (SNF/ALF), as reported by Florida state government as of Friday, May 15. It shows that “the curve” of COVID infections in Florida long-term care homes has not flattened at all for nursing home staff since the beginning of the crisis. It keeps moving upward steadily. And it claims to show a little dip among residents just in the last couple days.

Despite the obviously intentional optical deception of the charts, this “data” claims there are now more long-term care staff (in orange) infected with COVID than there are residents infected (in yellow). Not per capita; but in raw numbers. It asks you to believe that there were 1,9o7 residents infected statewide on Monday, May 11. And that on the next day, there were 1,667. LOL. Nearly 300 residents miraculously were cured, I guess.

The unfair burden of long-term care workers, many of whom are also public school parents

This data, if it’s remotely correct, places a terrible additional burden on long-term care workers, who are both at greater personal risk for contracting COVID and a greater personal threat to others, through no fault of their own, whatsoever.

Moreover, through personal experience that I’m going to discuss in a moment, I have come to understand how many of these workers are also public schools parents. I have zero doubt that a significant portion of parents or family who attend the graduation ceremonies will have some connection to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, jails/prisons, or other health care/institutional support duties.

I wanted to discuss this publicly at our last School Board meeting with Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Polk County Health Department and coordinator of the county’s pandemic response. District leaders have apparently consulted Dr. Jackson in planning the graduations. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson could not fit us into her schedule for Tuesday’s meeting, I was told.

Who is “you?”

Dr. Jackson did answer a few questions I asked via the superintendent by email. As I told the superintendent: that’s not good enough. And Dr. Jackson’s answers aren’t good enough on their own. But they’re what I have for now. Here are my questions and points for Dr. Jackson that I sent to the superintendent:

1)[Polk has] two of worst nursing home outbreaks in the state. Should we ask publicly that nursing home/health care workers not attend? 2) Will [Dr. Jackson] feel comfortable pulling the plug if the situation worsens in next few weeks?

Larger point for me: I think we need to make it clear to people that this isn’t  “safe.” Be honest about it. But that doesn’t mean don’t do it. In fact, by setting a clear example of how to behave in voluntary groups we could actually save a lot of lives/harm over time. And I want to ask her if she sees value in doing this with all the governance and precautions as a way of building public support for necessary behaviors in the months to come.

These are the answers from Dr. Jackson:

I would not recommend that healthcare workers or anyone else who are not on home isolation be excluded from attending graduation ceremonies. The measures you are taking including screening everyone at entry, ensuring adequate social distancing by assigning seats, limiting the number of attendees, requiring face masks, and performing environmental cleaning are all measures that will help make graduation ceremonies as safe as possible.

I am certain that we all want this important rite of passage to be as safe as possible for everyone in attendance. If disease trends in Polk indicate that the situation is worsening, then further discussion will be needed.  The health department is happy to be involved in these discussions.

I was struck by Dr. Jackson’s use of the pronoun “you” in this phrase: “the measures you are taking.” One cannot refer to “Billy Townsend” as “you” when “I” have never been included in the “we” that decided to hold — and then plan — in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies.

As a group, the elected Polk County School Board was simply told what the unelected staff had chosen to do, based on a student survey and apparent consultations with the Health Department and City of Lakeland. I can’t speak for any other board members individually; but neither my input nor my approval was sought or considered for any aspect of the events.

[Here’s an aside to the people who tend to freak out at even the mildest criticism of the superintendent’s professional performance: her tendency to duck serious  confrontation with the elected board over hard public issues bites her again and again. If you care about her, you’ll help her understand that and change it. I think all elected board members are willing to help. I know I am. But I’m not going to abdicate my obligation to the public to save her feelings or yours.] 

The first pseudo “mass gatherings”

I’m not going to throw down any ultimatums to garner my support in this. The issues at stake are far greater than whatever leverage I can gain from one symbolic vote or boycott.

These series of graduations starting in early June will be the first pseudo “mass gatherings” in Polk County since the COVID outbreak. They may well be the first in the state of Florida. As I understand them, they’re probably contrary to state guidelines on gatherings. But the state guidelines are so generally useless and unclear that I’m not going to get hung up on that either. I’m planning, at this point, to attend the ceremonies for the two high schools in my district, Lakeland High and Harrison School of Arts, which are really one high school. I’ll explain why in a moment.

But I am going to ask, again, for the key planners of the graduations to speak to the elected School Board in public at our next meeting or at a special meeting. Ideally, we’d have city government, city police, the Health Department, and the District represented. If nothing else, I could put some names to pronouns and determine who “we” really is.

If the public feedback received at our last board meeting is any indication, these graduation events are likely to anger people on all sides of the toxic COVID cultural divide. It’s my hope that talking openly, publicly, and honestly about the tradeoffs involved, and the tradeoffs involved in COVID life, can help knit that divide together a bit in our community.

It might not work. I have no illusions about that.

We’re a society pretty intent on judging each other. But I’m not sure what other choice any of us have who want find a way forward through a condition that we cannot wish away. Thus, what follows is basically every thought I have related to the graduations and the nature of COVID life and governance in Polk County and Florida.

Bad data that tells a bad story

Back to the data.

The fortuitous little dip off the peak of the yellow resident curve was extraordinarily well-timed to coincide with the reporting and comment-seeking from this Tampa Bay Times article about Gov. DeSantis’ dishonesty and utter lack of a coherent testing plan concerning long-term care homes. You should read it at this link. It’s great journalism from Mary Ellen Klas. Key excerpt:

DeSantis insisted Wednesday the state doesn’t have the resources to conduct the widespread tests that are occurring in at least four other states, including Texas, Maryland, West Virginia and New York.

“We want to test as many people as we can,’’ he said. “But we have 4400 [health care] facilities, so I don’t want to give false hope to say, oh yeah everyone will just show up.”

Remember the whine about “resources” when Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell talk their ridiculous  smack about how awesomely red-state Florida runs its business. And when DeSantis sings his own praises about his governing acumen.

Indeed, the “as reported by Florida state government” part of the nursing home data means it almost certainly presents a bogus picture of reality. Years of studying Florida education prepares an honest person for one clear reality: power in Florida regularly, casually — in press releases — uses data to lie for its own benefit. 

Thus, the picture above is likely the best possible view of nursing home reality the state can realistically conjure to serve Gov. Ron DeSantis’ personal political interests and the narrow economic interests screaming “open up,” whatever that means.

And even this best possible view is not good.

Mask-based manhood

By wearing a mask and submitting to a temperature check cheerfully, I am acknowledging and respecting the risks inherent even in that dubious data.

I am showing my respect and care for the people sealed away in miserable quality of life inside our SNF/ALF homes and other facilities. I am acknowledging the risks to the people who serve them, many of whom — very many — are also public school parents. And I am acknowledging that a mass gathering, even in an outdoor-ish setting like a graduation ceremony at Joker Marchant Stadium, is an inherent safety hazard for the people who live or work in SNF/ALF facilities — and to a lesser degree everyone else.

Wearing a mask and submitting to a temperature check limits the small, but real, likelihood that I could inadvertently inflict harm. By reducing what I project of my physical self in a mass gathering-ish setting, it limits — without eliminating — my capacity to inadvertently destroy a nursing home or a jail or meat packing plant or a warehouse. In limiting that capacity, I harm exactly no one. I insult exactly no one. There is literally no downside to it.

The only downside seems to be that masks have become somehow negatively equated with manhood; and you may think of me as less virile because of it. I don’t care. I was always taught by the men — and women — in my life that protecting others, even a little bit, is the ultimate expression of manhood. I see no reason to abandon that teaching now.

I’m not sure who decided masks should become the new anti-penises; but it’s stupid. If that’s the kind of manhood you want from your elected officials; if fighting for my right to kill a nursing home or warehouse or a church is what you want, I’m not your guy.

My personal struggles with COVID governance

But if you want a mask purist; and you want the graduation ceremonies called off immediately, I’m probably not your guy either. I don’t leave the house much these days; and I do try to wear a mask most of the time when I do if I’m going to be in the company of any amount of people, at grocery stores, etc. But I also forget or get careless or lax.

Moreover, my home setting is quite comfortable. I’m better equipped to pleasantly endure the trials of COVID world isolation than most people. I try not to forget that.

And I have always struggled — as I think everyone else has — with separating the no-brainer mass gathering questions from the impossibly difficult internal home; personal social contact; use of outdoor public spaces and recreation questions.

I’ve struggled with that for myself — and more acutely — with the two angsty, athletic teenagers I have responsibility for, as well as my elderly, but incredibly healthy, mother-in-law, who lives with us. How much do I clamp down? How much freedom do I allow? Does my wife agree? Who decides? What risks are real; which really aren’t? And how do you balance them against the terrible, isolating risks of not living at all?

This is deeply complicated, of course, by the performance of the political and civic leadership class in the country and state.

In its best moments, the leadership class seems far more interested in congratulating itself and/or ducking public responsibility for making tough calls and papering it over with wishful thinking and dishonesty about what has actually been done and what is still needed.

In its worst moments, it actively stokes political, economic, and culture war over COVID rather than providing the citizenry with tools and guidance to mitigate the damage of the pandemic and help clarify the decisions we have to make as individuals.

The graduation ceremonies plop themselves down on the straddle line of all these fraught considerations.  You will find no easy answers to them; because there are none. And that’s why no leader other than me, I think, has taken a question about them in public, from the public.

There are risks and downsides; and there are potential upsides beyond just the possibility of giving high school seniors an experience that compensates for some of what COVID stole. I made reference to that in my email questions to Dr. Jackson. And I’ll dive into it further into that balance in a moment.

A tale of two Mother’s Days: downtown rebirth and celebration

First, I want to take you back to Mother’s Day.

I spent all day helping my wife Julie, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, govern the Mother’s Day picnic in Munn Park. For those of you who don’t know, Munn Park is the centerpiece green space of downtown Lakeland’s restaurant/bar/retail district.

Julie’s idea was to ease potential crowding of large parties inside newly opened restaurants — while supporting those restaurants — by arranging tables and tents in Munn Park at safe distances. People could reserve a table; order takeout from downtown eateries; and have a self-decorated, outdoor Mother’s Day celebration with each other. I’m not sure how it added to the bottom line for businesses; but the 25 or so parties who took advantage raved about the experience. We helpers all wore masks and sanitized the tables between seatings.

Julie has poured all of herself into the culture and success of downtown Lakeland for years and years. She’s worked non-stop during COVID to help businesses adjust and stay alive, while recognizing that all these business she serves are suffering more than she is. I helped her put away A-frame “curbside delivery” signs one night, just after the outbreak, when the emptiness of downtown reverberated like the sound of death off the walls of a tomb. It was hard to look at her. To see a little life return to the space and idea of downtown to which she has devoted most of her professional life and all of her passion was gratifying to me, as her husband.

That sense of life was a clear benefit of “re-opening” public space and commerce responsibly.

A tale of two Mother’s Days: sealed miserably inside DeSantis’ euthanasia archipelago, so everyone else can “re-open”

Now let’s pivot a couple hundred miles northeast, to the assisted-living home where my parents live together south of Jacksonville. My mother suffers from accelerating dementia; my father suffered life-altering brain damage last January in a freak encephalitis incident. His extraordinary mind has repaired itself to a degree that’s hard to describe if you did not directly experience his aphasia of speech and thought in the immediate aftermath of what happened to him.

Before COVID, he had repaired himself enough to leave the home unaccompanied to walk to a nearby grocery store. He could spend nights away from the dementia hardships he experiences with my mother with several of his loving siblings in nearby Palatka. COVID ended that, of course. Moreover, my father has since been diagnosed with what is likely terminal bladder cancer. That disease has provided him his only opportunity to leave the home, which is extraordinarily well and lovingly run, for doctor visits with my sister, who lives nearby.

Indeed, this set of circumstance will sound familiar to anyone with family in elder care homes, locked away from the world and the comfort of loved ones “for their own safety,” or something.  And it provided a very different Mother’s Day experience for anyone attached to that world.

Indeed, on the Friday before Mother’s Day, when all the talk was “re-opening,” Gov. DeSantis sealed up everyone inside nursing homes without the possibility of loving contact for another 60 days.

So while Julie and I helped families experience a rebirth and celebration of sorts, my sister suffered from the crushing reality that she couldn’t even take a walk in woods behind the home with my mother, whose remaining moments as herself are precious and dwindling. I imagine this cruel experience was replicated in the hundreds of thousands for the loved ones of long-term care residents.

And most people in long-term care world have it much much worse than my parents and my family do. I always try to remember that, too.

Bricks without blueprints don’t build a house; they’re just useless bricks

Several facts about this Mother’s Day dichotomy occur to me.

The first is that Ron DeSantis does not give two shits about the flesh and blood beings and souls that are my parents. Or yours, if they’re in a similar situation.

If he cared about their lives — if they were a priority to him — he would have moved heaven and earth to develop a coherent testing program that could be used to protect SNF/ALF homes and allow for some basic human interaction between residents and loved ones. I could forgive failure if I could see effort or honesty.

Instead, he’s chosen to simply count tests, as if counting them gives them a purpose. DeSantis and his people talk about tests as if they were bricks at a construction site. There are thousands of them scattered across the vacant lot; but there is no house. He hasn’t even hired an architect to build plans for the house. It’s just nothing but bricks lying around, providing nothing but a count to brag about. Or more accurately, lie about. Again, from Mary Ellen Klas’ article:

Under the current policy, which will remain in place, the state waits to send a “strike team” of the National Guard medics to conduct testing at homes after it reports having staff or residents showing symptoms of COVID-19, exposed to the virus, or having already tested positive. Until Sunday, the tests were voluntary for staff but state regulators ordered homes with positive cases to require all staff to submit to tests if the National Guard arrives.

Despite the governor’s claims that Florida has been aggressive with testing at long term care homes, records released this week by the Department of Health to the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald and several news organizations show that health officials tested only about 6% of the state’s long term care facilities between April 11 and May 11. The strike teams appear to have tested only three of the 10 facilities with the most COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday.

It’s a piecemeal testing policy that many in the industry, as well as advocates such as AARP, have said is flawed, dysfunctional and has contributed to the 745 deaths from COVID-19 at elder care homes in Florida.

Absent a coherent testing plan, which we’re going to need for schools, too, a governor who prioritized the lives and souls of the elderly in our long-term homes would not be pushing for much greater social mixing in our restaurants and bars and gyms and nail salons.

Die on a politically convenient schedule, please

DeSantis’ push for greater mixing is virtually certain to infect more SNF/ALF staff and kill more nursing homes as as a result. (Not to mention any other setting where people are forced together to work in close proximity.)

This is not hypothetical. It’s what happened in Sweden. And it’s exactly what happened at the Opis Highlands Lake Center in south Lakeland, even before the “lockdown” — which was never really a lockdown — on commerce and social mixing was lifted. The company that runs Opis Highlands Lake Center is shedding staff wholesale and taking no new residents after Highlands Lake became the third deadliest nursing home in Florida with 20 confirmed deaths.

It seems obvious to me that the 60-day SNF/ALF lockdown extension isn’t designed to protect my parents or yours; it’s designed to protect DeSantis.

The governor and his people know that COVID is going to hop from individual home to individual home in DeSantis’ archipelago of sealed euthanasia centers. See the chart below, put together with the state’s data. The blue is the percentage of population of long-term care centers living in homes that COVID hasn’t breached yet. The gray represents the homes with outbreaks of greater than 10 cases. As you can see, there is much dry forest left to burn.

Here’s the only “plan” I see: DeSantis is gambling that sealing long-term care homes forever will slow COVID’s progression through the blue at a politically manageable pace. If my parents and yours can suffer and die on his schedule, he thinks he will benefit from whatever good vibes and economic activity “re-opening” creates.

Of course, my only proof of this is common sense observation. No one would ever be honest enough to say it out loud. But I challenge serious state health officials to explain to me in public why what I’m saying is wrong. And I dare you to explain to me, in public, how the long-term care lockdown will EVER be lifted.

I was planning to illustrate this uneven COVID-hopping across the euthanasia archipelago, from facility-to-facility, with county-level SNF/ALF data that the state posted earlier this week. It showed elegantly how a county can be cruising along uneventfully one day, and then, BOOM, a nursing home is breached. When that happens, the infection rate/deaths spike in that county, while adding to the overall upward curve of of the euthanasia archipelago statewide.

Unfortunately, those county-level graphs have now disappeared from the site. Your guess is as good as mine.

A modest, indecent proposal for LIBERATION

Here again, Florida’s approach to COVID data and education data rhymes. While my parents’ humanity does not move DeSantis, it’s clear to me that he desperately covets a very binary view of their data. If he can show them as alive, not dead, on the scoreboard through the election in November, he can claim that as a small victory in his effort to re-elect his friend and patron, the president.

The indignities and pains my parents — and so many others — suffer under DeSantis will not count in the data any more than fraudulent school grades count any real human experiences in schools.

And what if my father, having willed himself into becoming capable of making meaningful decisions again, and faced with bladder cancer that will likely kill him, decided that he would prefer to die on his own schedule, not one dictated by Ron DeSantis’ political interests? Should he have that right? Many folks have shouted loudly about FREEDOM and LIBERATION during all of this. What do you all think?

Those of you who are health professionals helping execute this morally monstrous approach, again, I dare you to explain in public why my father — public school teacher, participant in the 1968 strike, combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, and relentless, self-sacrificing lawyer and fighter for a better world, isn’t better positioned than you or Ron DeSantis to choose the time and manner of his own death. That goes for anyone. Explain that to me in public. I dare you.

Public school parents care for the inhabitants of the euthanasia archipelago

My parents’ experience — and DeSantis’ irresponsibility in dealing with it — also provides my greatest direct safety concern about the graduation plans (and about the potential to reopen schools).

In navigating the eldercare world with my parents and family, I’ve come to realize viscerally just how much of the American health care system — and basically all of the elder care system — runs on the criminally underpaid labor of the American “working class,” whatever that means. The American medical system support apparatus contains basically every shade and color of the American tapestry except white, in my limited experience. These crucial workers are mostly, but not exclusively, women.

Serving as a “sitter” for a critically ill patient so that patient doesn’t get up and break his hip; or so the children of that patient can get rest or get back to their own demanding lives; is grueling, often overnight work. So is cleaning up other people’s feces and mopping hospital hallways and doing all the back-breaking support work of a health care system that largely excludes the very people doing that work.

Time and again, when I talked to those people helping us, especially the women, they were public school parents. They worked round-the-clock caring for others for money to make better lives for their kids. This realization sharpened another that occurred to me when my son changed schools for 8th grade and started making close friendships with young men “of color,” whose mothers worked all night and who largely had to get themselves to school.

Again, look at the state’s own dubious data: the vulnerability of these vital folks — the fellow citizens doing hard hidden work that allows the rest of us some freedom — is rising. It has not stopped rising since the COVID crisis began. And when one of them catches it, they become a flame in a dry forest.

That alone demands a governed ceremony, with masks, temperature checks, etc.

A deeply important rite of passage

But it also highlights the poignancy of Dr. Jackson’s statement about the public school parents who also make our health care and elder care systems function:

I would not recommend that healthcare workers or anyone else who are not on home isolation be excluded from attending graduation ceremonies. The measures you are taking including screening everyone at entry, ensuring adequate social distancing by assigning seats, limiting the number of attendees, requiring face masks, and performing environmental cleaning are all measures that will help make graduation ceremonies as safe as possible.

I am certain that we all want this important rite of passage to be as safe as possible for everyone in attendance. If disease trends in Polk indicate that the situation is worsening, then further discussion will be needed.  The health department is happy to be involved in these discussions.

Again, the nature of COVID and our society concentrates risk and sacrifice among the people for whom the ceremonies are likely to have great meaning. The graduation ceremonies can just as easily be seen as a deserving reward for the folks giving so much of themselves to others — and to their children.

To wrestle honestly with the moral, social, and health issues implicit in these questions is the obligation of people entrusted with power, in my view.

The more people entrusted with power do that, the more likely the public is to do the same. And that’s what really matters to living together for as long  as COVID life demands. If people entrusted with power can’t imagine other people’s experiences, it’s unlikely that the public will do that either.

If the curve “bent” in Florida, school closings and we-the-people bent it

Indeed, in pandemic governance, the unwritten mass psychology created by the statements of leaders is more crucial to success than the written rules themselves, according to virtually everything I’ve read about this.

I highly, highly recommend this side-by-side study of the response to the Washington state and New York City outbreaks, which focuses as much on mass psychology and sociology as it does on “hard” science. Key excerpt:

Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainties or hard proof. “Being approximately right most of the time is better than being precisely right occasionally,” the Scottish epidemiologist John Cowden wrote, in 2010. “You can only be sure when to act in retrospect.” Epidemiologists must persuade people to upend their lives—to forgo travel and socializing, to submit themselves to blood draws and immunization shots—even when there’s scant evidence that they’re directly at risk.

Epidemiologists also must learn how to maintain their persuasiveness even as their advice shifts. The recommendations that public-health professionals make at the beginning of an emergency—there’s no need to wear masks; children can’t become seriously ill—often change as hypotheses are disproved, new experiments occur, and a virus mutates. The C.D.C.’s Field Epidemiology Manual, which devotes an entire chapter to communication during a health emergency, indicates that there should be a lead spokesperson whom the public gets to know—familiarity breeds trust. The spokesperson should have a “Single Overriding Health Communication Objective, or sohco(pronounced sock-O),” which should be repeated at the beginning and the end of any communication with the public. After the opening sohco, the spokesperson should “acknowledge concerns and express understanding of how those affected by the illnesses or injuries are probably feeling.” Such a gesture of empathy establishes common ground with scared and dubious citizens—who, because of their mistrust, can be at the highest risk for transmission. The spokesperson should make special efforts to explain both what is known and what is unknown. Transparency is essential, the field manual says, and officials must “not over-reassure or overpromise.”

Closing schools was the crucial signal

I left a number of public statements and increasingly urgent texts/emails to the superintendent — and other local officials — advocating that we close physical schools in early March. They show that I was thinking hard about the practical intersection of health care and eldercare workers with public schools.

I was a little less aware, at the time, of the crucial social signaling role that closing schools plays in grabbing the public’s attention and respect. But this is from that same article excepted above:

Yet the burdens caused by closing the [Seattle] schools could make an enormous difference in curtailing the spread of the virus: all kinds of parents would have to stay home. In 2019, Seattle had closed schools for five days after a series of snowstorms. Afterward, the Seattle Flu Study discovered that traffic in some areas had nearly disappeared, public-transit use had tumbled, and the transmission of influenza had dropped.

Constantine thought that announcing school closings was a potent communication strategy for reaching even people who weren’t parents, because it forced the community to see the coronavirus crisis in a different light. “We’re accustomed to schools closing when something really serious happens,” Constantine told me. “It was a way to speed up people’s perceptions—to send a message they could understand.”

To my knowledge, I was the only public official in Polk County who ever assertively advocated to close physical schools. The pushback I received, both from state and local school officials and from local government officials, went something like this: we don’t have any confirmed cases; so let’s not make people panic by doing anything too drastic.

First, as I wrote later, it was deeply irresponsible for anyone to say “we have no confirmed cases” when nobody was being tested. Second, “panic” was actually precisely what was needed. Only, it wasn’t “panic” at all; it was just a painful acceleration of a radical change in public perception.

The state finally bent to pressure. It very reluctantly, late on Friday, March 13th, advised school closures and cancellation of mass events on March 13th. Because of that, St. Patrick’s Day parties across the state — including downtown Lakeland — were much smaller than they would have been, in just one example.

And if you think that didn’t matter, consider this reporting from the Tampa Bay Times about the progress of the virus in Florida.

The analysis indicates that while Florida’s politicians debated beach closings and stay-at-home orders, residents took matters into their own hands.

By the time each county shut down, there had been large reductions in activity, the cell phone data shows. People in the worst-hit counties were overwhelmingly staying home weeks before DeSantis’ order went out — and even before the much-earlier orders issued by local governments.

To answer that question, Tampa Bay Times reporters reviewed the methodology behind several prominent models and studied data tracing the virus’ spread into every corner of the state.

Then the Times analyzed cell phone tracking data collected by three companies that paints a vivid picture of how Floridians reacted during the outbreak’s early days. Fifteen experts reviewed the work and shared their observations.

Look at this incredible image of Polk County’s normal social movement as documented by cell phones. The dotted line is when schools closed. It was two weeks before any “stay-at-home” order was issued. Closing schools mattered much, much more to staying at home than the “stay-at-home” order did. Period.

The people of Florida started taking COVID seriously at the precise time schools closed. That’s not a coincidence. DeSantis would go on to express some regret about closing schools. I have none. And he ought to thank me because it sure looks like I did far more to enable his political COVID strategy than he did to protect or care for my parents.

You’re welcome too, Mr. President. LIBERATE!!!!! But a testing strategy would be more helpful and moral in moving forward.

The graduations can be another crucial community signal

It’s hardly surprising that public schools provided the crucial governing signal to take COVID seriously. They are the only real community-wide institution for most Florida communities. Public schools are the beating hearts of our communities, which is why our long-term treatment of them and the people who attend and work within them is so inexcusable.

Within that community reality lies the most possibility for benefit for the graduation ceremonies. I think the horse is out of the barn on greater mixing. For better or worse, we’re going to try it as a community and society. Permission has been given.

My texts will also show that I was pretty ambivalent at first about even continuing distance learning with devices. The idea of people in multi-generational households sharing lots of devices troubled me. But thankfully, that seems not to have become a problem in COVID spread; and I’m really pleased with the resources for learning that our people provided our kids, as a whole.

That’s one reason among many that I’m not going to boycott mass gathering-ish graduation ceremonies. But I am going to limit myself to the two schools in my district, which is what the attendance guidelines ask of elected board members.

And I will proudly, with my best manly bearing, wear a mask and submit to have my temperature checked as I enter. I will do so in honor of my mother, my father, and you. I will wear my mask in honor of the people who live and work in DeSantis’ euthanasia archipelago.

If you find that repulsive — or if you find masks and temperature checks an intolerable violation of your freedom to breath on whomever you want — I’m not sure what I will ever say to change your mind. Ultimately, everything about these ceremonies is voluntary except the terms of entry. Literally nobody is required to attend.

Managing the entry and exit to Marchant Stadium is my greatest practical concern about this gathering, by the way. It won’t do us much good to limit attendance and space out seating and take measures if everybody decides to do group hugs in the parking lots.

If we can avoid that, if we can all behave responsibly, the graduation ceremonies can perhaps serve  as simpler trial runs for the much, much, much more complex and risky question of opening physical schools. If we can show that we can do this in a responsible and loving way as a community, it could mark a step toward a reopening of schools and governing path for the entirety of COVID’s presence in our lives.

We have to choose to govern ourselves

We-the-people are largely on our own in finding that governing path. Official power in this state and country demonstrates virtually no leadership, morality, or courage. And we-the-people hamper ourselves in finding this path because we are often too quick as citizens to see each other as enemies or expendables.

These graduation ceremonies may become a COVID-spreading, blazing hot, highly-regulated fiasco that pleases exactly no one. No one should ignore that risk. I certainly don’t. But we also have to try to govern ourselves and show respect for each other, somehow.

Public schools are the community force most likely to deliver that sense of common fate. Our kids are the community force most likely to deliver that sense of common fate.

With that in mind, I’m willing to take the very real risk of celebrating them.

 

One comment

  1. Steve Abney

    What will happen when (not if) someone has a temperature when they check in for graduation? Will they be turned away? Will someone consult a chart and ask four more question before deciding?

    I took my wife to a hospital visit recently and waited outside, close enough to observe the screening. “Let me take your temperature. Have you been with anyone sick? Have you travelled out of state?” One visitor said, “Yes, I just moved here from California.” No additional questions, come on in.