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Chester County Press

COVID Summer: Parents Teaching their Children the Hard Lessons of the Pandemic

07/30/2020 06:00AM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

As the coronavirus flipped its calendar from March to April in the United States, reports began circulating that large-scale parties were being held on Spring Break beaches that were drawing hundreds of college-age revelers.

It was all supported by photographs that depicted wall-to-wall, body-to-body frivolity – a collection of young adults who seemed to laugh in the face of the common-sense restrictions that a global pandemic had forced upon them.

They were not practicing social distancing. They were not wearing masks. On the contrary, their devil-may-care attitude celebrated the last strains of restless youth, and no one, least of all the medical experts who warned them of the potential health consequences of their actions, was going to stop them from having a great time.

The parties rolled on, and as several states began to loosen their restrictions, beaches and bars became the new epicenters for the virus, and young people became its newest victims. Perhaps the most brazen act of social defiance of young people has been the new phenomenon known as a COVID-19 party, whose premise is based on inviting a few of the unlucky ones who had contracted the virus to frolic with those who had not tested positive. The first one to contract a positive test wins the competition, which usually comes in the form of cash.

Since Memorial Day weekend, the rates of infection among adults 20 to 40 have skyrocketed in the United States, particularly among those in states like Florida, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia – and Pennsylvania.

In its July 17 report, the Pennsylvania Department of Health(DOH) confirmed that there were 1,032 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 99,478. The report also stated that the department is seeing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger age groups, particularly 19 to 24-year-olds, who now account for 45 percent of the total case count.

In an advisory sent by Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine last week to healthcare facilities and professionals, she wrote that the DOH is seeing increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19 that are not part of a known outbreak. Specifically, she wrote, these cases have been associated with travel to other affected parts of the country and social gatherings or social settings – such as parties, restaurants and bars.

The recent demographic shift in the continuing sweep of COVID-19 is enough to worry anyone, and while the younger population is less susceptible to develop severe symptoms and possibly die, there is the growing fear that this population could infect other people, especially the vulnerable older generations.

In short, these numbers tell a tale that has its roots in the false perception of invincibility, and for the parents of these young people, the numbers have led to several table meetings with their high school- and college-age children.

Here is How This Works

Winden Rowe, a personal counselor and trauma specialist who lives in New Garden Township Building, is the single mother of two teenage sons. William, the oldest, is headed to a small college in Maine in the fall, and Reid, the youngest, is about to enter his Senior year at Kennett High School.

“We had a family moment when this all started,” she said. “We were definitely scared, confused and daunted by this, like everybody else was. I found myself standing in my kitchen, giving them a lecture about appropriate pandemic practices, as if I had any clue about what I was talking about. Nobody has been through this before, and I certainly have no clue.”

She had a serious reason to be concerned.

“I explained to them, ‘Here is how this works. My father has Parkinson’s Disease, and if he contracts the virus, his chances of surviving are significantly low.’”

Rowe is not alone. Jamie Kleman lives with her husband and two children in Landenberg. Their daughter Abby is about to enter her Junior year in college in Washington, D.C., and their son Will is preparing for his Senior year at Kennett High School. Even more concerning is that her parents live a few hours away in Maryland and are both vulnerable to the virus.

When the pandemic first arrived in March, Kleman said the family went on lockdown, but even as the statewide restrictions shifted, county by county and region by region of Pennsylvania, “We still had to talk with them,” she said. “We told them that we all have to be extra careful during our trips to see my parents. We told them that while we get that their age group feels that they will be okay if they are infected, the concern is not just for them, but for my parents, who are both at high risk.”

Word of the spike in COVID-19 among young people – and its potentially devastating effect on others through exposure -- has caught the attention of the country’s top infectious disease expert.

Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in late June, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that young people are not immune to the negative effects of a coronavirus infection, and need to be more cautious regarding their exposure to the virus, not just for their own health, but for the health of others they could inadvertently infect.

“What we do have is a lack of appreciation,” Fauci said. “You have a dual responsibility. You have a responsibility to yourself, because I think thinking that young people have no deleterious consequences is not true.”

Remain in Our Bubble

Ellen Catanzaro lives in Kennett Township Building with her husband and two daughters. Last weekend, they transported their oldest daughter Maggie to graduate school at The Ohio State University, while their younger daughter Claire is preparing to start her junior year at the University of Delaware. When Pennsylvania entered it first shutdown phase this spring, the Catanzaro family formed its own protective shield and did not allow anyone else in their home.

“We began to have the same conversations everyone is having – that the coronavirus is something that could kill us -- and that we have to remain in our bubble,” Catanzaro said.

“In fact, Claire did not leave during the first wave of quarantine. When Maggie would return from seeing her boyfriend, she would have to distance herself from the rest of the family.

“Eventually, her boyfriend became part of our bubble, and when we got to a certain point, we figured that he was now part of our bubble, but the truth is that he also has another bubble – his family.”

Catanzaro admits that the safety and precautionary roadmap of the coronavirus is sometimes a conundrum to sift through, decipher and ultimately pass along to her daughters. Not only have regulations flipped back and forth, she said, the virus has become a politically-driven tangle of mixed messages that are delivered daily.

“It has all become very blurred, as opposed to when we all had to stay at home,” she said. “I think everyone is trying to do the right thing, but many of the messages are mixed, and if you are one who listens to the messages, they can be quite confusing. How do you teach your children if you’re not sure what you should be telling them?

“It opens us all up to danger, because once you’ve opened up the floodgates, how do you rein everyone back in?” While parents throughout Chester County have set into motion precautionary measures for their children in preparation for the summer, there is another huge – and still unknown – hurdle waiting for them in about a month: Whether or not the school(s) their children attend will reopen in the fall.

Early last week, Gov. Tom Wolf placed new restrictions on restaurants, bars and businesses in the state in an effort to tamper down the recent climb of new COVID-19 cases that have been occurring in the state. Later in the week, Wolf said he would consider “pulling the plug” on school reopenings if the recent uptick of cases continues to rise.

It’s the latest gut punch to local school districts who were forced to redefine themselves this spring in the wake of a pandemic, as well as to parents who had to rearrange their work and life schedules around their children’s academic needs. After being forced to close their doors in the spring, the immediate future of schools remains a mystery, and is now being solved by its key stakeholders who are spending their summer holding virtual town halls and Zoom meetings with concerned parents.

Kennett Square resident Suzanne Gaffney and her husband Chris are the parents of their daughter Faith and son Hayden, and like many other parents, Suzanne has spent sizable chunks of her summer wondering what the “Big Picture” scenario will look like in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District come fall.  She belongs to two social media groups made up of parents of children who attend schools in the district. It’s a back-and-forth online argument of Yays and Nays; some parents are in favor reopening and some are in favor of maintaining remote learning.

“I think a lot of the concern for many parents is in the waiting and in the not knowing,” she said. “For now, I’m standing on the sidelines, because the comments [on social media] are coming in so fast and furious that I have had to distance myself from it. I am going to take a break from the information.

“If I don’t, I will remain in a stop-and-start conversation with other parents, my children, and none of it is normal.”

Teaching our Children to be Independent Thinkers

As Chester County parents scramble to find the sure things in the mysterious and potentially harmful unknowns of a global pandemic, the easiest steps have been the ones that have entered their place in the modern-day mantra: Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

“Whether it’s the pandemic or choosing to make good choices, it’s about Chris and me teaching our children to be independent thinkers,” Gaffney said. “It’s no different than the other pressures they have. This is just one other thing they have to do, no matter what else anyone is doing.”

Rowe said that among the people she counsels in her practice, a number of them fall in the 18-14-age group. As they live through the worst global pandemic in over 100 years, she said that they have told her that in the beginning, they were not taking masking and social distancing very seriously, but all that has, for the most part, changed.

“Now, the kids who had been going to parties are now telling me that they’re avoiding those situations,” she said. “They’re getting to the point where they’re realizing that it’s going to take all of us to make this stop. 

“A colleague of mine once taught me that one of the rules of parenting is to not insulate one’s children from unhappiness,” Rowe added. “She said, ‘Teach your children resilience and how to do the hard things, and to learn how to make the right decision even though it’s not always the easiest decision. Let them learn the different adversities that they face, the challenges and the emotions that come, and how to regulate and modulate their way through that.’”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].