What Would a Humanist Do? Bolster the Bubble or Pop It?

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Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.

Q: I have kids in high school and middle school. We’re part of a group of families that was carefully “bubbling” socially before we all spent a week in a huge house on a quiet beach where we cooked communal meals, swam in the sea, laughed a lot, and never interacted with anyone else or got in our cars until the day we left. It was awesome. Now that we’re back, the bubble has expanded as one would expect, but some parents seem to have a more casual idea of mask wearing and social distancing than others.

Several families belong to a neighborhood pool that, while implementing some coronavirus measures, is still open where kids are splashing around with no real distance enforced (and if you haven’t been to a pool with kids recently, let me remind you they get exuberant in water, which means lots of screaming and yelling; everything is airborne). Moreover, some kids have started sports practices—apparently with social distancing measures in place (but we’ve seen how well that’s worked with professional teams).

Last week a few people showed symptoms of a cold or sinus infection (I had the latter from all the swimming) and one boy got sick with a high fever. A number of us got tested and reported to the group when the tests came back “not detected.” Today, before his nasal swab test results were in, the boy who’d had a fever a week ago showed up at the outdoor card game the boys have going on in front of the local school. I dropped my son off to find all of them with their masks around their chins.

I get it. We’re all human and we stretch the boundaries sometimes. We want our kids to have fun and enjoy their friends, but I’m starting to wonder how to be a responsible parent and deal with parents who are friends in a time of pandemic. What would a humanist do?


A’s: The safety of your children is the top priority, not what other parents are doing. If you’re concerned with your relationship with other parents, make sure they know your concerns. Everyone is concerned with the health and safety of their children. Use that as common ground to start the conversation. Furthermore, the evidence is on your side. Cases are rising across the country because people started taking more risks with the re-openings.

Conversations with other parents about their children’s health and how they’re handling situations involving their children is hard. That shouldn’t stop you from having them during this pandemic. A key thing is keep these three priorities in mind: first, the health and safety of your children. Second, having these conversations may help protect other children in your neighborhood. Third, the most dangerous thing you can do is say nothing.

—Andrew Hulett, legal fellow

Navigating the complex world of socializing during a pandemic is hard enough for me as a childless person, so I can only imagine how complicated it can be when you start adding children and entire families to the mix.

Something that I suspect you already know: in the era of COVID-19, a social bubble will only work if everyone in that bubble is on precisely the same page and adheres to the exact same standards. For example, in order to attend a very small outdoor gathering on the Fourth of July, a group of six of my friends all agreed to get tested and then strictly quarantine up through our gathering time. We felt confident in our plan (albeit still slightly uneasy; such are the times we live in) because we all trusted each other to not take any risks that would expose the group.

There are levels to your situation, I suppose. We must expect and demand that adults make the safest choices at all times, but we can only hope that children are put into the least risky situations possible. Realistically, there is little you can do to prompt kids to act responsibly at a pool or a sports practice. But when a child is clearly ill (with coronavirus symptoms, no less!), parents have an overwhelming responsibility to keep that child sequestered until absolutely certain what the cause is. We have Netflix and Nintendo Switch for a reason.

It sounds like you’re on a friendly level with the parents of the boy who had a fever. I’d recommend having a constructive conversation with them about why you found their lax quarantine measures concerning. It’s entirely possible they saw the fever go away and reverted back to pre-pandemic ways of operating, thinking, “The symptoms are gone so we’re in the clear.”

We can drill safety measures into our kids but ultimately can only hope for the best from them. When it comes to their parents, you can and should hold them to a higher standard.

—Peter Bjork, web content manager, managing editor for TheHumanist.com

It’s interesting that as people get more comfortable in the “bubble,” they begin to take fewer precautions. It seems like members of your bubble are extending their relaxation of public health protections pretty broadly, potentially to someone’s detriment.

I’m sure you do a great job of reminding your kids to keep the masks on when in public, practice social distancing, and not cough on others. The challenge is: How do you get other kids within this bubble to do the same? Depending on how you established rules within the bubble with the other families, I would revisit that conversation with them in order to express how the partial relaxation from the other families makes you anxious and understandably nervous for your children. If they’re not receptive, or you see a continued negligence to the “rules” of the bubble, I’d pop it. It will sadly be less fun but safer. However, I’d be optimistic about broaching your concerns to the other families. It seems like you all came together because you recognized the hazards of the pandemic, and perhaps they’ll welcome readjusting priorities, knowing they’re minimizing their own risk of getting or spreading the virus.

—Sam Gerard, communications associate