The last year has been crazy. I am a high school/dual credit college math teacher with cystic fibrosis, and I have been teaching for 27 years. When COVID-19 arrived in Mississippi last March, it all came crashing down. My school closed for spring break on March 6, and we did not return during the 2019-2020 school year.
Although Mississippi was one of the few states that pushed families to do in-person learning, most public-school districts did allow students the option of doing school at home. My employer graciously allowed me to teach from home last year. I am forever grateful that I was given this opportunity.
In January, when the first vaccine became available, I was one of the first in Mississippi to receive it. Soon after, my wife, Jana, was also able to be vaccinated. In early April, our oldest son, John, was granted access and was vaccinated, followed by our 15-year-old twins, Justin, and Elizabeth, last week.
Now that everyone in my immediate family has had at least one dose of the vaccine, our world will begin to look a little different than it has for the last 15 months.
We are still going to be very cautious about the places that we go and the events that we attend. However, a life that appears to be a little more normal will do us all good. But how much normal is safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently said that people who have been fully vaccinated are OK to resume life without masks or distancing with little to no fear of catching the virus. While that is great news for most Americans, my family will still need to be very cautious in all that we do because of my CF.
One thing that is helping guide our cautious approach is a COVID-19 risk assessment tool that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation created, which helps patients and their families evaluate the risk from in-person events. The tool is easy to use. You plot activities on a grid according to your risk of exposure to COVID-19, which depends on your vaccination status, how far you are from others, and how long you are in contact with others.
As I look at this assessment tool, I am able to evaluate most things that our family participates in outside our home now that we have been vaccinated. I now see events that I would have viewed as high-risk as much lower-risk. I'll give you a few examples. Last fall, in-person learning would have been placed as high-risk for both type and length of contact. This fall, I expect my employer to pull the option of at-home learning for students and that our school district will no longer afford me the opportunity to teach from home. While I initially thought at-home learning would be our only safe option moving forward, we have seen that most transmissions do not occur at school. I now believe I would place in-person learning and teaching in the lines of low/medium on length of contact and low on the type of contact using the risk-assessment tool.
Other things that feel less risky are having our kids play with neighborhood friends outside, riding my e-bike, or going on an outdoor hunt with extended family. Going to the store and being seen by my local CF team no longer seem to be so daunting these days either.
There are other events that still pose a greater risk for our family in my eyes. For example, going to a movie theater on a date with my wife. I am not comfortable with this idea yet. I believe it still holds more risks than I am willing to take at the moment. Based on the assessment tool, I would still have to label it as high-risk based on type and length of contact. However, I do believe that I would be comfortable with eating indoors at a restaurant because the duration of eating a meal is shorter than that of watching a movie and we would be sitting farther away from other customers in a restaurant than we would at a movie theater. It's now more of a medium risk for me due to the length of contact and low/medium risk for the type of contact for me and my spouse.
As we learn more, my family and I can make better decisions as the world around us continues to change.
As a dad with CF, this is where our family is right now, but everyone is different so where you put events on this tool could be different and that's OK.
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