See Related: Susan Estrich

Last week, children across the nation went back to school. That was the good news. The bad news was that COVID-19 went back to school with them.

Official reports found that 1 in 4 cases were among children. Unofficial reports suggest that the numbers may be even higher.

And who is infecting these children? Their parents.

How unbelievably, shockingly stupid can people be?

It's one thing to risk your own life. It's a stupid thing, when half the drugstores in America are offering vaccinations free of charge. But it's your life to risk.

But to risk a child's life, for no reason at all, is simply criminal. It is abuse, plain and simple, masquerading as autonomy.

So long as children under 12 cannot be vaccinated, their health and safety depend on the adults in their lives behaving responsibly — getting vaccinated, wearing masks, taking precautions.

In 10 states, across the Deep South and then jumping to Idaho, intensive care unit beds are full, and hospitals have been closing operating rooms to make way for more ICU beds. The military is sending medics to assist in the hardest hit states.

Former President Donald Trump carried nine of those states. Operation Warp Speed, the government program that spurred development of the vaccine, was a Trump initiative. And yet it is Republicans who have been leading the fights around the country over mask mandates, and especially mask mandates in schools.

Why? Who has the right to risk a child's life? Or a teacher's?

Here in California, in the bluest of the blue states, right-wing talk show host Larry Elder is the leading challenger in next week's election to determine if Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled. The once-popular governor has been attacked by Elder for — what else? — his support of mask mandates in public schools and public places. I can think of plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the governor, who famously celebrated his lobbyist buddy's birthday with 11 other folks inside the most expensive restaurant in California. But compared to Elder?

And where, oh where, is Donald Trump?

The man who couldn't go to the bathroom without a blast on Twitter from the toilet has been ridiculously silent when it comes to what might have been the crowning achievement of his administration. The former president and his party have emerged not as the cure for COVID-19 but as the embodiment of the disease.

My son's longtime girlfriend teaches physics at an inner-city charter school. Today, she had 11 students in her class; the other 20 were quarantining. A friend's daughter waited in line for an hour and a half at her girls' charter elementary school as each student was tested for COVID-19. She plans to try it for a week and then decide whether to home-school. I've volunteered to do the honors. After 40 years (!) of teaching law, first and fourth grade should be a real challenge.

What is so sad about the current crisis is that it is all so completely avoidable. It was different last year, when there was no vaccine available — when professionals could work safely from home while essential workers in low-wage jobs kept us fed and safe. But today, you can go into any drugstore in America and find your choice of vaccines.

Years ago, there was a popular pediatrician in Santa Monica, where I live, who bought into the myth that vaccinations caused autism. The question we faced as a board of the elementary school was whether we would honor this supposed medical excuse for the vaccination requirement.

We had children in the school with compromised immune systems who really could not safely be vaccinated, and that was a good enough reason to say no to the Santa Monica science fiction.

But if you ask me, children are our sacred trust. They are not property. There is no excuse. We are the luckiest people on the face of the earth, and we ought to live up to that responsibility. If not to each other, then at least to each other's children.

Susan Estrich can be reached at sestrich@wctrib.com.

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