We must work together to emerge from COVID-19

July talk of returning to the classroom may seem premature — even cruel — for some.

But school administrators, as they have since March of 2020, are working to navigate COVID-19 waters that have suddenly turned choppier, reminding all of us that the pandemic is not over.

In just 10 days this month, the average test positivity rate in DuPage County more than doubled, increasing from 1.7 percent on July 14 to 3.7 percent on July 24.

While the availability of ICU beds remains relatively stable, the average number of patients in the hospital has been steadily increasing this month.

Meanwhile, even though only 58 percent of Illinois residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, the number of people getting shots continues to drop each week. The seven-day average is less than 18,000 this week, down from a high of almost 133,000 reported in April.

The good news is far fewer people are dying each day from COVID-19. Almost 98 percent of deaths since Jan. 1 have been of people who had not been fully vaccinated.

Those in charge of providing safe spaces in which to educate our young people are processing all that data in developing in-person schooling plans. As we’ve learned, those safety measures can vary widely from community to community. Of course, changing guidance from health organizations don’t help produce a straightforward approach.

On July 9, the Centers for Disease Control advised that masks should we worn indoors by those not fully vaccinated. Then just this past week, with the emergence of the Delta variant, that recommendation changed to universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

At last week’s Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss, in announcing full-time in-person learning for everyone, stated that face coverings inside will be optional, but strongly encouraged for those unvaccinated.

Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 has yet to issue its return-to-school plan.

The mask issue has been a contentious, one especially in suburban districts, sparking picket lines and board meeting outbursts in opposition to mask mandates. While seeing neighboring districts follow different protocols can be confounding, we appreciate the local control that districts are afforded.

We also appreciate the public’s understanding as officials make these decisions amidst a shifting pandemic landscape and respect for the fact that not everyone shares the same view.

No one, we surmise, wants to wear to mask. And the notion of being required to wear one flies in the face of our fiercely held prerogative of self-determination.

But public health emergencies call for steps that may impinge on individual comfort and preference. Registering one’s opinion on the matter at board meeting is encouraged, but haranguing officials as they try to act for the greater good is not.

Let’s treat each other as the neighbors we are, doing what’s best for our own household while honoring others’ choices rather than seeking to impose the particular behavior we endorse.

The involvement of children always raises the stakes. But it’s also an opportunity to show kids how a community moves forward, diverse in opinions but united in concern for one another.