COVID-19, Masks, and Bleach at a Preschool

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COVID-19, Masks, and Bleach at a Preschool

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During the COVID-19 pandemic I worked at a preschool where I taught primarily 12-to-18-month-old children until they were ready to move onto the next class. The use of a face mask and rigorous cleaning methods were a constant part of my day for the entire time I worked there. Now, the memory of that time stands out to me the most through the feel of the mask on my face and the smell of the bleach that seemed to stay with me for days. The kids I taught were too young to wear masks (that was reserved for the two-year-old and up classes), but they did not seem bothered that the adults surrounding them wore pieces of fabric over their mouths and noses. For eight hours a day I felt the pull on my ears, the scratchy material against my nose, and the frustration of the mask muffling my voice when trying to get the attention of ten children in the classroom. Pointing out facial features like a nose or certain facial expressions like being happy or sad with a mask on became normal. More often than not, I would feel a small hand reach up and attempt (or succeed) at pulling my mask down which I proceeded to pull back on as quickly as possible while ignoring how good the fresh air on my face felt.
Aside from the masks, the administration required routinely cleaning all toys used everyday with a high concentration of bleach. During nap time, the smell of the bleach filled the room as we cleaned all toys used that day, regardless of the duration of the activity. Even with a mask on, the smell lingered in my nose, on my clothes, and in the classroom to the point that I always felt that I smelled of bleach. When COVID-19 infection numbers were up in the local area or we had case in our school, the bleach concentration, as expected, went up and so did the smell. While I supported all efforts made at the preschool to reduce possible COVID-19 infections, these sensory descriptions illustrate the mental and emotional draining portion of the pandemic history.

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This item was submitted on August 21, 2022 by Seaira Lee using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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