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Have we become a nation of germophobes?

Are we turning into a nation of Donald Trumps?

The president of the United States is a well-known germophobe, and it appears the public health establishment has followed his lead — consciously or unconsciously — as it deals with the novel coronavirus heading into the next school year.

In West Virginia, there’s a possibility school will be closed an entire day each week to allow for decontamination. Buses could run with windows down; good luck during rain. And in good weather, good luck to the drivers who will have to watch the road while watching kids so they don’t have their arms out the windows and getting smacked by trees. Buses will probably need aides to watch kids so drivers can concentrate on driving.

Some of us choose to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus. If anyone expects an elementary school-age child to come home with a masks that’s clean and intact, they’re in for a huge disappointment.

Schools have always been petri dishes for germs. Back in my day, we self-quarantined. Parents kept kids out of schools for a week or so if they came down with measles or mumps, and they didn’t get letters threatening to contact the county prosecutor if they didn’t provide a written explanation of the child’s absence.

What this virus has done is turn us into a collection of germophobes that is suspicious of strangers. Any person who comes within six feet of you is a danger to your grandma.

We can’t totally rid society of the novel coronavirus. We can, however, ask what role children and teachers play in its spread. From what we know so far, school-age children themselves are not in as much danger from the virus as the people they come in contact with unless those children have underlying health problems. How many children fall into that category is not generally known.

The problem could come in areas where a high percentage of children are raised by their grandparents, who are more vulnerable. To put it bluntly, the fear could be that children will serve the same function that rats did during the bubonic plague. They don’t contract the disease, but they could serve as carriers. Teachers, nonteaching personnel and bus drivers will need to be protected, too.

Superintendents and principals will sort through a lot of good ideas and a lot of bad ones in the next month or so. People are growing tired of fighting a disease whose effects they rarely see. They’ve noticed that efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have serious consequences.

If school officials want parents and grandparents to comply with these anti-virus plans, they need to explain each step that is taken and why it’s important. Schools haven’t always been the most transparent of places, and the need for security has made them less accessible.

Schools also need to be ready to deal with parents who are unable to comply or unwilling to.

My oldest grandchild starts second grade this fall. She needs a safe environment, but she doesn’t need one ruled by an unreasonable fear of germs. She should come home from the first day of school with some interesting stories and some interesting paperwork for her parents to fill out. The second day, too.

Jim Ross is development and opinion editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email is jross@hdmediallc.com.

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