Well if 2020 has proven anything, it’s that we are a resilient people. Any one of the things that this year has thrown at us- COVID, the peach freeze, the fires- would be devastating on their own. Lump them all together and, well, I guess its just as devastating. But we’re good at picking ourselves up after getting knocked down and we’ll do the same in this bizarre year. We know how to deal with a lot of the hardship- we’ve been through fires and late frosts before. It’s all the stuff we don’t know that’s so hard to manage right now- how long we’ll live with COVID, if there will be another spike, and if we’ll be forced to shut down again. Those unanswerable questions are exhausting. I think we’re all having some serious COVID-fatigue right about now. I know I am.

My kids keep asking if we’ll still be dealing with COVID at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, next spring break and I have no idea. To be honest, I never imagined we’d still be dealing with it. The cancellation of college football last week was a particularly demoralizing blow. Simply because football would return us to some semblance of normalcy. And the chicken wings, of course.

What does surprise me is the incredible fear that’s gripped so many of us- especially when it comes to our schools reopening.  The number of kids moving to online school is significant as parents are fearful to send their kids back into the classroom. And they aren’t the only ones- so many teachers are afraid as well. And the school board is trying to balance it all amid a social media frenzy that seems more about politics than the safety of our students and teachers.

Lately, I have begun to wonder if we’ve lost some of that practical common sense that western Coloradoans are so known for. I’m not minimizing the impacts of the disease, but it’s really quite simple- we are smart enough, advanced enough and capable enough to allow our economy to continue to function while keeping our most vulnerable safe. We must keep our businesses open and we have to send our kids back to school. It’s not a complete return to the pre-COVID days- grandma and grandpa should probably stay quarantined- but shutting down again will create conditions that will devastate our most at risk families and cause permanent damage that may be unrecoverable.

I’m talking about kids here- kids that need to be in school for all kinds of reasons. Maybe it’s the only hot meal they get. Maybe it’s the importance of routine. Maybe it allows their parent to go back to work. Reports of child abuse cases fell off significantly during the shut down. It wasn’t because parents magically stopped abusing their kids, but because teachers, who were no longer with their students, stopped reporting the abuse. Teachers- who often spend more time during the day with our children than parents- are essential workers and as the largest employer in Mesa County, District 51 provides an essential service. We ask a lot of our teachers. Really, we ask too much of our teachers, but we need them now more than ever.

As a community, we have made huge progress over the last few years as wages increased and the number of kids on free or reduced lunch decreased. 45% of kids were on free or reduced lunch at the start of 2020 down from 52% just three years ago. It’s too early to figure out what that number will be when school starts on Monday, but my guess is that at 10% unemployment, we’ll see it creep back towards 50%. It doesn’t really matter though. 44% (9,680) or 52% (11,440)- it’s still too high.

And before you inundate me with emails about safety, let’s consider the obvious. We know how to stop the spread of COVID through hand washing, masks and contact tracing. It’s not rocket science. It’s basic hygiene. CMU has worked hard on a plan all summer to keep their students and faculty safe this fall. The middle school that both of my children will attend is using cohorts to keep kids in “family units”.  Our Health Department continues to lead the state in contact tracing, which keeps outbreaks isolated and contained. We were the first county to reopen after the shut down and we’ve maintained one of the lowest COVID rates in the state.

We can do this. We need to do this. Our kids are counting on us.

The GJEP Staff would like to give a big shout out to our incredible CMU intern, Angela Koukoulas. Angela was a significant contributor to GJEP this summer, a fun addition to have in the office, and will be missed when she returns to CMU for her final year on Monday. Best of luck, Angela!