Kelli Caseman, Executive Director

Do you remember the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie?” I do. I sang, spun, and fell down many times with my friends when I was a kid. Years later in college, I read that the song could have originated during the Great Plague of London. Scholars hypothesize that those rings that we’d sing about were the red rings that developed on victims’ skin that developed into painful boils. It’s incredible that such a simple (and gruesome) song could have lasted for hundreds of years, thanks to the persistent singing of children. 

Sometimes I wonder if children will be singing songs about COVID hundreds of years from now. I think: What will resonate with these younger generations? What will they sing about?

Last year, COVID didn’t affect kids as much as it does now, thanks to the Delta variant. Now, schools have taken center stage in the polarized split in how we should, as a country, respond to COVID-19. It’s a split between blue and red, with virtually every issue decided by political affiliation. As someone who spends a few days a month in Washington DC, I see a sharp contrast between their urban/blue city response and the response here in Charleston, WV. It’s so strange that politics are deeply influencing how we respond to a public health crisis. 

According to the New York Times’ Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, West Virginia is currently ranked fourth among states and US territories for our COVID case rate. Our current test positivity rates of COVID-19 rank us 25th of the 50 states. And our state is currently tied with Alabama for the 46th state for our vaccination rates of individuals ages 18 and younger. 

On Saturday, we hit our highest rate of daily COVID-19 cases, only to be topped on Monday, when the number of positive cases and people hospitalized for the coronavirus in West Virginia both hit peak records. 

Nationally and here at home, recent surges in cases and hospitalizations among children under 12 are undoubtedly worse than where we were last year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t looking like we’ll see a vaccination available for them anytime soon.

The statistics aren’t good, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. And still, that’s not enough to unite us. 

Public school students have returned to in-person learning this year, and schools continue to grapple with reducing the spread of COVID-19 through buildings, on buses, and at extracurricular activities. As a state that values local autonomy, county school systems have developed their own mitigation strategies. Many have had to revisit and revise them over the last few weeks due to the unforeseen uptick in COVID spread. Currently, two counties (Pocahontas and Putnam) do not have mask mandates, but it’s important to note that many counties have temporary mandates that will end in a few weeks. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in this moment. What we do know is this: The ongoing health and social consequences of the pandemic will continue to negatively impact children. The continuing political and cultural fractioning of their communities will stoke confusion and fear. The anger is palpable, and the fact that kids are in the middle of this isn’t stopping good people from acting irrationally.

Here at Think Kids, we’re frequently deleting messages from our social media sites that spread misinformation or refute data/articles we share regarding COVID. Their comments aren’t the kind of remarks we want our younger supporters to see.  

We’re also fielding more calls from folks around the state sharing information about school outbreaks that aren’t being reported by the state, tense board of education meetingsstudents being pulled from school, and packed hospitals where parents are afraid their children won’t be able to be seen if something were to happen to them. Considering that we work with families with vulnerable children– kids who can’t be vaccinated– their concerns are very real and concerning.  

And so, we hope all of us will take this moment to remember that the kids are watching us. They need us to do better. Are we more concerned about fighting each other or the pandemic?  Let’s commit to being both informed and kind and look out for one another– especially the little ones who are too young to be vaccinated. Let’s give the generations we’ll never see a story about good people who acknowledged their differences but cared more about keeping kids safe. They may remember how we adults responded to this new phase of the pandemic for generations to come.

 -Kelli Caseman is the executive director of Think Kids.


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