Care and Feeding

The School’s New COVID Precaution Feels Like a Step Too Far

Am I wrong for wanting to opt-out?

A hand holds a nasopharyngeal swab in front of a colorful background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Aleksander Kaczmarek/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our school district recently sent information about a free weekly COVID-19 testing program for elementary schools. The samples would be collected at home and sent to school, school would send them to a local hospital for testing, and we would get results by mid-week. We are fortunate to live in a state where all schools abide by strict measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The precautions are so stringent that even if there is a confirmed case in the classroom, the rest of the class is not required to quarantine if school was their only exposure. My husband and I are vaccinated, and we take the pandemic very seriously. We work outside the home—but not with the public—with COVID safety-conscious employers. We don’t eat in restaurants or socialize indoors, we use a grocery pickup whenever possible instead of shopping, and the kids don’t take the bus to school. I absolutely understand why weekly testing of unvaccinated kids is valuable for public health. This should be an easy decision, and yet …

I might not sign up, and I feel selfish and awful about it. This is because of my anxiety; I know I will be sick with worry for the first half of each week, and then the cycle will just start over again. With all the precautions in place at home and in school, I believe their risk is well-managed now, and our lives have returned to a stable routine. I literally get light-headed remembering that feeling that any minute I could get a call that we have to drop everything and stay home for two weeks. I am in treatment for anxiety, but I don’t know if there’s enough medication in the world to get me through this every week.

Since we don’t have anyone in our family or social circle at particular risk, and a positive result wouldn’t mean the rest of the class has to quarantine anyway, is it reasonable to skip the weekly testing? We are taking all other precautions. I want to do the right thing for any classmates or staff who have medically vulnerable people in their lives, but those people are eligible for testing themselves so they aren’t relying on our results. I would still follow the recommended testing process if any of us developed symptoms. Am I looking at this wrong, or just making excuses because of my anxiety? If we have the option for free, weekly testing for our kids do we have a responsibility to do it?

— PCR Panic

Dear PCR Panic,

Weekly testing does reduce risk of COVID transmission, and it’s a great step toward furthering the efforts your child’s school is making to limit exposure, but if participation is voluntary, the choice to opt out remains yours.

If individual responses to the pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t determine the full impact that the next person’s action or inaction will have on us. People who’ve reported to doing “everything right” have contracted and spread COVID. People who’ve chosen not to vaccinate and haven’t been vigilant about mask-wearing have somehow eluded infection. We have no way of knowing which of our efforts, if any, will alter outcomes for those around us. While it’s wise to err on the side of public safety recommendations, I can’t speak to what responsibility you have to the children, parents, and educators at your child’s school. It sounds like you have assumed some responsibility for protecting yourself and those around you throughout the pandemic. Continue to do what you can. If your anxiety prevents you from taking this next step, you’re within your rights to opt out of the school testing program. You likely won’t be the only one.

— Stacia

More From Dear Prudence

My husband is a very easygoing, reasonable guy in all ways except one. He hates staying in other people’s houses. Whenever I travel to an area where family or friends live, I invariably get insistent invitations to stay at their houses. If I am traveling alone, I take them up on their offer. If I am traveling with my husband, I have to decide who to upset: my husband or my potential hosts. How do I find a way to make both camps happy in the future?