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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Reopening demands everyone do their part

Jeanette Herman scrubs her school bus in preparation

Jeanette Herman scrubs her school bus in preparation for her first run of the year in West Islip Tuesday afternoon.  Credit: Newsday/Lane Filler

When Jeanette Herman began driving school buses decades ago, the job was a snug fit for her because she had two small children to care for, and back in the early 1990s, was allowed to bring them along while she worked.

But when her son, a police officer in New York City, and her daughter, a teacher, reached school-age, she opted for more corporate jobs.

Herman missed the kids, though, and four years ago she returned to driving school buses. That’s why she was out in her sun-dappled Holtsville driveway Tuesday morning cleaning her bus in preparation for her first run since March 13: a 2:45 p.m. pickup of a student with special needs in West Islip. I was on my morning walk when I spotted her scrubbing the interior of the small bus.

Herman is fighting to keep children, and by extension, all of us safe. And she and her husband, and her 78-year-old mother who lives with them and has a heart condition, deserve to be protected in turn by our willingness to take precautions. A lackadaisical approach to COVID-19 on our parts will endanger Herman and her family, and that’s inexcusable,

“I’ve always taken keeping the interior of the bus clean seriously, that’s the responsibility of the driver and the aide,” Herman said as she went at her small bus’ exterior with a mop to get it looking shipshape. She also said she’s not sure she’s going to be compensated for the additional cleaning.

“But now it’s even more important to do it,” Herman said. “I just imagine my grandchildren, and I know how I’d want it to be for them.”

This reopening of schools is the step toward lifting restrictions upon which a return to normalcy relies, until a working vaccine is widely adopted. If the schools can’t stay open by keeping infections to a minimum, parents’ work lives will not trend back toward normal. And other higher congregating we so desperately miss or just got back to, like religious worship, movie theaters, indoor restaurant dining, wedding and funerals, will be banned.

With some 190,000 people dead of COVID-19 in the United States, the economy reeling and the government mobilizing, the pandemic has a wartime feel. World War II-style signs imploring us that “Uncle Sam wants YOU to wear a mask!” would not feel out of place.

And seeing a neighbor scouring her bus to safeguard the kids and parents she’s missed so much that she reached out to touch base with them regularly since schools closed on March 13 reminds me who the soldiers in this war against disease are:

All of us.

But now, when masking and distancing discipline ought to be redoubled to compensate for the increased exposure of this return to school, it is instead fading away. Shoppers in stores and partyers getting together, and parents and kids waiting at bus stops and walking the kids into school, are increasingly wearing masks under their noses, around their necks or not at all.

The disease fatigue is understandable, but we cannot give in to it. If we think we’re tired of COVID-19 now, just wait and see how much we hate it when everything shuts down again because we could not muster the discipline to do the right thing.

Jeanette Herman is going the extra mile to protect the kids she transports and cares for, and thus keep their families, safe.

We owe her an equal effort, to keep her and her family safe, too.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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