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Wildfires and Covid

Actual image of my city blanketed in smoke.

If you live in the west then there’s a good bet that the air outside is almost unbreathable. In my state, our air quality has been so terrible that I can’t see the mountains – which are quite literally 3 miles away from my house. The air is so terrible because of the number of wildfires burning…well…*gestures around*. I’m a runner, and in the last 30 days I’ve maybe had 3-4 green quality air days.

This isn’t anything new, I’ve already talked about the wildfires in the west. However, what you may have missed in the whirlwind of news this weekend is that wildfire smoke is linked to worsened cases of Covid.

Yep. That’s right. The air is killing me, and if I happen to catch Covid, the wildfire smoke that I’ve been breathing has the ability to make my sickness worse.

When there’s smoke in the air, especially this much smoke, you breathe in “fine particulate matter.” You may be familiar with this term, because in the rush to start school, you’re looking into masks that help filter out the “fine particles” (you know, so you don’t get Covid). A recently published study found that “on average a daily increase of 10 µg/m3 in PM2.5 each day for 28 subsequent days was associated with an 11.7 percent increase in COVID-19 cases, and an 8.4 percent increase in COVID-19 deaths.” Which, to me feels a little terrifying.

Ok…so what?

That 11.7 percent increase in Covid cases wasn’t caused by the smoke, but it did make catching Covid worse, which is important. As someone who can look out her window to see smoke…I also don’t really have a solution. You can’t do something about a fire three states away from you. You can’t really do anything about a fire in your state (except don’t be dumb and start one).

What you can do is wear a mask outside. Do you have KN-95’s? Awesome, wear them when you walk around the block. Don’t go running or do heavy exercise when the air quality is bad. Get vaccinated, wear masks to lower your risk of Covid.

But, also…be aware. If the smoke is bad outside, that means you likely have an increased risk of Covid, so do your kids, so does your community. I know it’s an old refrain, but vote. In the past two years we’ve really seen how much local elections matter. Vote for the people who will help enact policies that help ease our changing climate, that protect our communities, and protect our health.

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Saturday Haiku

School starts in two days

Anxiety comes and goes

People are selfish

Whatever, don’t vax

But you are responsible

For the current deaths

Children wear masks fine

But they need good leadership

And we have failed them.

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Welp…

The great thing about this picture is you can’t see the humans.

With everything going on, you may have missed the IPCC report that was recently published. If you don’t know (and you probably don’t) the IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to their website, the IPCC “is the United Nations Body for assessing the science relating to climate change.” You can check them out here.

The IPCC report has determined that climate change has been “unequivocally” caused by humans, and is impacting quite literally every “corner of the planet.” The report indicates that we are barreling toward that 1.5 degree of additional heat, that we will likely reach this level by 2030, and that we are currently on track to heat up by 3 degrees by the end of the century. In fact, to stop warming before the 1.5 degree mark is nearly impossible based on our carbon output.

So, on top of the rest of your existential dread, let me give you an idea of what this means. If we don’t do a shit ton of things (and by we I mean our governments) we’ll surupass that 1.5 degree marker, and hit 2 degrees of warming. That means, among other things, that ecosystems will disappear in 13% of the world. And, if we don’t really do anything, and we hit that 3 degrees of warming … well…that would result in “catastrophe”. That 1.5 – 2 degree range will already result in flooding, droughts, the suffocation of the oceans, famine…the list goes on. So…not super great.

Ok…So What?

To stop ourselves before absolute climate catastrophe the report states that “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” would need to be made to our emissions output. Additionally, the report states that “We can no longer assume that citizens of more affluent and secure countries like Canada, Germany, Japan and the US will be able to ride-out the worst excesses of a rapidly destabilizing climate.”

I’ve already written about how our forests are burning, our sea life is dying, and Climate Refugees are on the rise. This is no longer something we can turn a blind eye to.

But what can you do? I mean, let’s be honest, if you do everything in your power to reduce your carbon footprint, it will not stop the change that it coming. It will take mobilization on a massive scale to effect change. It will take everyone pulling together for a common cause, trusting in science, and finding solutions that help remove us humans from the brink of catastrophe.

We’ve seen how well we can do that since 2020….too soon?I

Especially in the midst of the pandemic where we seem to take one step forward and about 100 steps back, it’s hard to be optimistic that anything will actually change. That being said, you also can’t throw your hands up and say “well, I’m not going to make any changes to my personal behavior or habits because catastrophe is inevitable.” No, it’s not inevitable, that’s the point. We can make choices that will get us out of this, becoming complacent won’t help us create change.

So, yes, you should do everything you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. But, you should also vote!! VOTE IN EVERY ELECTION, LOCAL AND FEDERAL! Local elections, state elections, federal elections – who are the people in power that will enact climate policies? Vote for them.

It’s a shit solution, but it’s the one we have. Like minded people have to mobilize on a massive scale to elect politicians who will enact smart climate policies. And, we have to hold them accountable to those promises.

That’s the only way.

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Tanka Saturday

#I

Smoke filled air pervades

Floating, monster like, it chokes

Will you mask up now?

Or are you not even phased

By the burning of the Earth?

#II

We have plenty here,

But there are fires everywhere

Not small ones either

But large fires, eating the trees

Consuming the last forests

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An Open Letter to Utah Lawmakers

“Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure…”

George Washington

Dear Governor Cox, House and Senate Members, City and County Leaders, Council Members, and Local Government Leaders,

Last year you asked me to be a shield for my students and for my community.

You asked that I return to a classroom full of unknowns. That I wear a mask, and teach my students to wear a mask properly. You asked that I navigate teaching a classroom full of students in the middle of a pandemic, and keep them healthy. You asked that I do it with a smile on my face and love in my heart because that’s what you do for community.

When the vaccine became available, you asked that I burnish my shield to a fine shine and imbue it with an extra level of immunity. I took the vaccine willingly and gratefully.

Last year was the most difficult year I’ve ever experienced as a teacher. Despite masks, children and their families got sick. Some students had family members die. In the midst of this, you asked that I remain in school and provide support. You asked that I navigate teaching, despite the stress and fear of disease, “for the children, for their mental health.” And we did it. We made last year safe for our students and communities. Teachers did that. They took your cobbled together rules and they implemented them. For you, for parents, and for the state.

By not instituting a mask mandate in k-12 schools, you are spitting on our sacrifice.

In an attempt to please the loudest and most obstinate groups, you are impacting the health, safety, and progress of the state of Utah. You have not followed the advise of medical professionals, you have not listened to the pleas of your healthcare workers, or the experience of your teachers. Instead, you have chosen to bow to the groups most awash in misinformation. This has and will result in rising case counts, ICU tipping points, and pediatric deaths.

Last year, you asked me to lead and I did. Now, you have not shown any leadership. You have not shown calm consideration of facts and research. You have not shown the ability to make changes for the good of the state.

Now, you are turning your backs on our children.You are turning your backs on their sacrifice.

We are on the verge of school re-opening, and in a fit of righteous indignation you have banned mask mandates. Despite the fact that you have tried to downplay your involvement, the reason children will remain unprotected is because of you. The reason children will be hospitalized is because of you.You have put politicians with agendas in charge of the health of our children, rather than pediatricians or other science professionals.

You have chosen your power and prestige over the life of my children, of my students, and of my community.

Masks in schools will save lives.

It is not the child that struggles to follow the rules of masks. It is not the child that struggles to show empathy for others. It is not the child who struggles with community care.

It is the adults. It is the parent. It is you, the politician.

Children are catching Covid. They are being impacted by the disease. Your folly will impact the future of our state, the future of our community, and the future of our students.

The right thing is to impose a mask mandate in schools. You know this, the evidence points to this, all last year was spent protecting children and now, rather than continue, you have chosen to succumb to pediatric ICU surges, and deaths.

We can not shield them when you’ve tied our hands behind our back. We can not shield them when you’ve made it illegal to even try. We can not shield them when you stir the pot amongst the most volatile of parents. Last year you asked us to be their protectors, this year, you’re asking us to stand back and watch as our future sickens at the hands of a virus that could have been stopped by a mask.

Impose a mask mandate in k-12 schools.

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Wobbling Moon

I used to see the way the world could be, but now the way it is is all I see…

There’s a ton going on right now. Schools are back in session with no mask mandate. Vaccinated individuals can be carriers, and the Olympics are still going (were they always this long?).

However, my current existential threat is this wobbling moon we have to worry about.

Alright, alright space nerds, don’t come for me. I’ve read the articles, I know the “wobble” isn’t anything new. I know it’s a perfectly natural phenomenon.

You know what’s not natural? Climate change.

So yeah, this wobbling of the moon, combined with rising ocean waters, will likely lead to intense flooding in the middle of the next decade. Because, as you witches know, the moon and it’s position influences the tide, and always has. It’s why the moon is so important, etherial, and mysterious. And probably why my 13 year old daughter asked if my periods tracked with the cycle of the moon. (No, they don’t).

2035 is not that far away. And yeah yeah, it seems like there are a lot of factors that will cause flooding, but the fact is that our natural cycles of life are going to impede our cycles of life because we refuse to do anything to fix the problem we created. Which, is honestly my current reality, and probably yours if you’re reading this blog.

Ok…so what?

Honestly, I don’t have a huge “ok, so what” today. I mostly just wanted to blog about how the world seems to be falling apart around me, how I am constantly baffled at the selfishness of people, and sometimes I have strange existential panic about it. I’m in a state that has banned masks in schools, where there is a lot of vaccine hesitancy, and where I’m both shamed for not wearing garments and for wearing a mask. Gaslit at every turn!

The moons wobble feels easier to focus on.

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Haiku Saturday

Kids sitting at desks

Pencils in their hands, ready

The virus attacks

Teachers in the class

We were asked to be the shields

We can’t protect them

Parents in the home

Have few good options because

Their leaders have failed

This is all to say

Selfishness has brought us here

It’s kids who suffer

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Masks: Why Are We Still Having This Fight?

Your great grand-dad didn’t fight in a forgotten war for you to not wear a mask

You may have been appraised by your sister’s boyfriend Deuce that the CDC updated their masking guidance. Now – likely, Deuce has elevated this to some sort of government overreach where nobody has individual rights and everyone is some drone of the government machine. But really, the CDC has simply recommended that, even if you’re vaccinated, you wear a mask inside. They’ve also recommended that K-12 schools still employ masking for the upcoming school year. Language matters, and there are no “requirements” as of yet.

Recommendations do not immediately equal requirements. Nonetheless, people went BONKERS, none more so than the parents that don’t want their kids masking in the Fall.

Being a teacher is a lot like being a mother. Everyone has an opinion, and you’re never doing anything right – ever. This holds true for masks, everyone has an opinion, and the most vocal of these people are parents and legislatures who did very little to study the pandemic in children. They are also people who have never taught in a classroom. I’m a teacher, I lived in a state where we re-opened last August, and I taught middle school for an entire year in a mask. Let me tell you what it’s really like.

We opened in August of last year, and remained open the entire school year. My school never closed because of outbreaks, my son’s school (a high school) had to close multiple times. I’m not an expert, but I believe my school didn’t close because younger children didn’t get tested the same way adults and sports ball players got tested.

You see, this is how it would start: A student comes to school looking a bit peakish. I’d tell them “go get your temperature taken.” They would. They come back – oh they’re fine, no clinical fever. Ok, cool, but they’re still coughing so I make sure they wear their mask correctly. They go home, whatever.

That sick student would then just disappear for a few days. Eventually, I’d get an email saying “so and so’s family has Covid so they have to quarantine.” Ok…but that student never got tested, and this is the important part. Kids were not getting tested. Parents were. Why the disparity? I’m not sure, but I’d guess it has to do with accessing the Covid benefits given by the state if they had to miss work.

Because the student was not a positive case, only presumptive positive, it didn’t count for school closure. A few days later, the kid who sat next to that student disappears. Their family got Covid.

Is it spread or coincidence? I genuinely don’t know. However, this is my anecdotal evidence. The same thing happened time and time again all year…with masking in place.

States, including mine, have made it illegal to require masks in school. With the Delta variant, and children under twelve ineligible for the vaccine, kids will get sick! The virus will not only spread in schools, with who knows what long term effects, the virus will spread in families. This is not fear mongering, it’s absolute truth. Virus’s spread and they will spread faster and easier with no masks. No masks combined with an entire building full of non-immunes…well K-12 schools are basically opening up a Covid Buffet.

Ok…so what?

A lot of anti-maskers drum the tired out refrain of “let the parents decide.” They do this anytime they’re uncomfortable with something; history, sex-ed, you name it. Here’s the problem with that, those parents are deciding the health of me, my kid, and my community, and they are throwing it in the trash. Generally, they are not medical experts, weighing the scientific facts and making the best choice for their children. They are people with strong beliefs who are re-acting to the stew of misinformation that right wing television personalities are stirring.

And look, I’m not here to bash your TV choices (though if you’re not watching Ted Lasso I don’t know what you’re doing with your life) but, when you get all your masking information from Tucker Carlson, you don’t get to decide my health outcomes. Experts should do that. Not legislatures, not parents, not even teachers. Experts. If experts (like, IDK the CDC) recommend that we should wear masks in schools – then we should.

So what do you do? What if you’re in a state, like me, where it’s illegal for districts to require masking? Well, show up to your board meetings, for one, because the Anti-Maskers will. Two, send your kid to school in a mask, a strong one if you can get it. Three, if you haven’t been vaccinated, and somehow you’re reading this article and have been persuaded by it, then get vaccinated. Four, get your kids vaccinated if you can. Five, troll your favorite Senator whom you love to hate.

As for me? My four kids are all vaccinated, and they will all be wearing a mask to school. I will also wear a mask to teach. It is, quite literally, the least we can do to help our own global community.

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Blahlympics

Growing up, and even five years ago, the Olympics were something I looked forward to every year. A theater girl, I loved the outright spectacle of all the best athletes in the world competing for gold and for glory. The Olympics also tends to draw us together as part of a global community. Of course we’re in our homes, rooting for our own athletes to win, but we’re also connecting with so many other nations, and rooting for their athletes.

The world watches the human energy that unfolds during the Olympics. Falls are both dramatic and heartwarming, courage and grit are shown by athletes, who always find a way to overcome obstacles and yet still make it out ahead. It’s like a reality TV show, full of young, good looking people, that has a real happy ending.

Except this year. This year I feel very “blah” about the games. And, this is by no means a professional survey, but everyone I talk to also seems blah about games.

I have a theory. Or, at least, I know why I, personally, have been blah about the games. As a global community, we have been in the midst of a gripping pandemic just over a year and a half. Now that the Olympics are here, we still can’t contain the virus. We, as a world, have sent our best athletes into the fray, spent billions on the Olympic Games, all while most of the world isn’t even vaccinated yet. The golden luster of the games has dulled. It’s a gilt overlay that’s chipping and revealing dented tin underneath. The Olympics are not bringing us together, nor are they necessarily tearing us apart. They’re just…blah. Instead of a welcome diversion it’s just another area for stress and anxiety.

Ok…so what?

The Pandemic isn’t over yet, but the global (perhaps western?) community is selfishly requiring that we move on as though it is. The games have pushed on despite calls for them to stop or be postponed. Why? Money, contracts, power.

Athletes are getting sick, our world is already sick. Normal people are dead and dying, and, in my case, I’m two weeks away from schools reopening without masks. The games are not a welcome distraction, they’re simply another thing to worry about. Somehow, some news station will sell this to you as though people don’t care about the Olympics anymore, or with some other angle.

I don’t think that’s true. I think we are tired, and the dazzling display of the Olympics is not something that’s empowering in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not something that’s empowering when we are in the midst of a housing crisis and inflation.It’s hard to watch our athletes compete when we are all struggling. It’s hard to watch money get thrown at the games when we need global vaccinations. It’s hard to watch Olympic dreams get dashed by the virus, because the Olympics shouldn’t have gone on in the first place.

Though…I’ll watch the GOAT all damn day.

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A Teacher Muses on the upcoming year

A Haiku Review

Library of Congress

On whether to vaccinate your child.

Teachers will be back

But can we protect the kids

Without masks or shots?

On whether to mask

I did what was asked

I washed hands, wore masks, got vaxxed,

Others chose not to

On concerns about education

Is your child behind?

The answer is no, they’re not

It’s a pandemic

On concerns about CRT

Teachers don’t have time

They’re not teaching CRT

It’s called history