The Disinfectant Spray

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The Disinfectant Spray

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As a high school history educator, Thursday, March 12, 2020, stands out in my mind as a significant date as it was the final day of in-person instruction before our district decided to close the school until Spring Break as a result of the spread of COVID-19. There was nervous energy radiating from my students and colleagues. The fear of the unknown was palpable. I remember changing my current events lesson mid-day as the activity I had planned, monopolized by the growing health crisis, brought me too much anxiety. By that point in March, there were portable hand washing stations located at various points on campus, students more readily pumped the wall-mounted Purell hand sanitizer container on their way into my classroom, and the school sites passed out a collection of cleaning supplies to the teachers.

I used the school-provided disinfectant spray to help keep the classroom clean. The smell still serves as a visceral call back to that March day. Between each class, I dutifully sprayed the disinfectant on each desk, wiping it clean for the next student. The nose-scrunching sting of the alcohol-based cleaner filled my room rather than the calming vanilla room spray, amplifying the seriousness of the situation unfolding beyond my classroom walls. The smell lingered in my nostrils as I told my students that I would see them the following Tuesday, not knowing that those sophomores would not step foot in my classroom again before they were seniors in high school. The scent swirled around me as I packed up my belongings at the end of the day and debated how much I should bring home with me. The smell still enveloped the classroom as I unknowingly shut my door for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year and left campus. There have been many iterations of the smell of alcohol-based cleaning wipes and hand sanitizers throughout the pandemic as we anxiously try to keep ourselves healthy. The obsessive use of disinfectants reveals the desperation we feel to combat an invisible foe. However, the school-provided disinfectant still has the distinct ability to conjure memories of that emotional day in March when we were on the precipice of change.

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This item was submitted on October 14, 2021 by Sarah MacInnes using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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