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Another COVID school year

Late August is for nostalgia and futile resolutions. Not this — again.

Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, elementary school students lined up to enter school for the first day of classes in Richardson, Texas, on Aug. 17.LM Otero/Associated Press

The end of August is a bittersweet time if you have school-age kids. The luckiest of us try to soak up every last one of those gorgeous, waning summer days, feeling some combination of nostalgia and, it must be said, relief: We love our kids, truly, but how many more barneys over screen time can we have?

Having a new school year in sight brings dread, and excitement. We make all kinds of promises and resolutions — Healthier lunches! More study! Less procrastination! Better sleep! — we will never, ever keep. Still, it feels good to pretend, if only for a few weeks.

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Or, it did.

We’re going into our third COVID-plagued school year. And what should be a triumphant return to normal — carried on the wings of the miraculous vaccines — is, yet again, an exercise in fear and diminished expectations. Especially for parents with kids too young to get the shot.

That gorgeous vaccine should have protected more of us from the virus, but refusers and the demonic Delta variant conspired to make that impossible. Remember how hopeful spring felt, when legions were lining up for vaccines, and the end seemed within reach?

May’s dashed hopes had an inescapable and way-too-on-the-nose metaphor in the stinking weather that followed: Rare perfect beach days crowded out by stifling heat or soggy chill. And, as of this writing, Hurricane Henri, because of course.

So here comes another broken autumn. Not as broken as last year’s, certainly, but no one’s dream. Our vaccination rates are very good compared to other states, which means fewer COVID hospitalizations and deaths. But cases, including those infections breaking through the vaccines, are ticking up. Which makes gathering in classrooms and other crowded settings risky. Which means normal is still a ways off.

Still, at least we’re not in Florida or Texas, whose governors seem determined to sacrifice their constituents’ health, and sometimes their lives, to serve some twisted notion of freedom (and their leaders’ electoral prospects). There are no borders between those benighted states and ours. As long as their people are placed in danger, we are all of us in danger.

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Word came down on Friday that the state’s education commissioner was finally going to require kids in schools to wear masks. Until then, Governor Charlie Baker had resisted the entreaties of, oh, everybody, arguing that the decision should be left up to local school authorities. That had put massive pressure on educators. And it opened the door to some of the nuttiness we’ve seen in other states, where those who oppose vaccines and mandatory masks have been calling school officials and public health experts Nazis, and threatening them.

When the Dracut School Committee voted to require masks in schools last week, a man at the meeting shouted, “You’re not going to like what’s coming to you. Nuremberg trials,” the Lowell Sun reported. “You’re torturing my child.”

Oh yeah, totally normal.

Liberating this man’s child from the torture of masks (and the rest of us from the torture of having to listen to such idiocy) now depends in large part on what happens outside classrooms: The more fully vaccinated people we have in this state, the safer our kids will be.

And here Baker has been much bolder. On Thursday, he issued one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, requiring more than 40,000 state employees to prove they’ve been vaccinated, or allowed an exemption, by mid-October or risk losing their jobs. About 64 percent of residents are fully vaccinated right now. The governor rightly points out that employer mandates are now the best way to coax more holdouts to get their shots — and the state is our largest employer.

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Polls show such mandates are very popular, but Baker is getting resistance, of course, including from the union that represents correctional officers, whom inmates have no choice but to interact with closely. In a memo to members, union officials vowed to challenge the policy in court.

“This fight is not over,” the memo read. “It is just the beginning.”

Please, let the fight be over. The rest of us just want to some day, somehow get back to normal. We miss those futile, late-August resolutions.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.