Fighting wildfires and the virus
Battling record-breaking wildfires during a pandemic was always going to be a challenge, and now some of the worst fears may be coming true: Six members of a fire incident management team in Washington State had to go into temporary isolation this week after a member of a resupply crew tested positive for the coronavirus.
To prevent the spread of the virus among firefighters, who often travel in groups or stay in close quarters at command posts, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service in April ordered a new strategy that would rely more on local crews and focus on rapid containment to prevent the need for larger teams.
But this year’s historic wildfire season proved too challenging for the revised approach. Thousands of firefighters are now clustered in camps, with many arriving from other regions. Teams have taken their own precautions, increasing sanitation and limiting interactions among firefighters, who return to camp in shifts. There are also temperature checks, additional hand-washing stations and individually packaged meals.
Firefighters may be particularly vulnerable to the virus. They often face respiratory issues caused by smoke, and many find wearing masks to be too restrictive in the line of duty.
This is just the latest virus-related challenge for wildfire crews. The economic downturn has shrunk firefighting budgets, and manpower has been limited by less access to prison inmates and others who were stuck in quarantine.
Celebrating the holidays, apart
On the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days, which begin today with Rosh Hashana and culminate in Yom Kippur, constitute the most important religious season of the year. During normal times, Jews gather in large numbers at synagogues and contemplate themes of repentance and reckoning.
But this year, the High Holy Days will look profoundly different. Across the world, synagogues are moving services to empty lots and outdoors tents, spacing out chairs, wrapping masks around shofars and, in many cases, gathering online.
In New York, the service at Central Synagogue in Manhattan includes online performances and items sent to worshipers to create a sanctuary at home. In Israel, where the country is entering a second lockdown after a frightening resurgence of the virus, rabbis are determining the number of worshipers allowed at services based on complex calculations that involve local infection rates and the square footage of synagogues.
In the U.S., in the midst of a pandemic, wildfires, and racial and political conflict, some Jews are struggling to identify with one of the themes of the season: renewal.
“I just have this incredible overarching sense of loss,” said Sandy Kahn, president of the Riverdale Minyan, a synagogue in the Bronx, which was hit early by the virus. “Loss on a personal level, loss on a communal level, loss on a societal level.”
Chaos in New York
On Thursday, parents and educators in New York City found out — some via Twitter, some by word of mouth — that the nation’s largest school district will push back the start of in-person classes, again, for most students. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the delay just days before students had planned to return to the classroom, sending parents into a scramble to rearrange child care and sowing confusion among school staff members.
“I’m beginning to think this is part of a secret plan to mentally and emotionally break me,” one principal tweeted.
“It is mid-September and there is still no plan on how to educate children,” said Natasha Capers, a parent in Brooklyn who described the latest delay as “a punch in the gut.”
Children will now re-enter the classroom on a rolling basis, with pre-K students and students with advanced special needs attending school in person on Monday. Elementary school students will start in-person learning on Sept. 29, and middle and high schoolers will follow on Oct. 1.
The city’s original plan to reopen schools on a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction had been heralded as a kind of victory lap after a summer of low infection rates. New York City would have been one of the only major school systems in the country opting for in-person classes. But the city faced a series of logistical challenges, including a shortage of teachers available for live instruction.
For some, the delay is yet another breaking point after a summer in which parents struggled to handle burnout and teachers missed opportunities to prepare for and improve remote instruction. Mike Julianelle, who runs the parenting blog Dad and Buried, said that his wife had been the person to inform their fifth-grade son’s teacher about the school delay, during an introductory Zoom meeting. “The chaos is just all over the place,” he said.
“At this point, I just feel exhausted and frustrated,” said Liat Olenik, who teaches pre-K at Brooklyn Arbor Elementary. Ms. Olenik said she had heard of teachers planning to leave their jobs because of their distrust of the Department of Education. “A lot of people are like, is this just the new thing?” she said. “We’ll go two weeks, and then the mayor will make another announcement?”
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What you’re doing
As a retired microbiologist, I had been teaching preschool science. When everything shut down, my husband (a videographer), two grandchildren and I spent the summer making science videos for every letter of the alphabet. Now that the preschool is back in session, they are using the videos for their science program.Advertisement
— Susan Griswold, Georgia
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Dani Blum contributed reporting.
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