Who passes, who fails

As we head back to stress, I mean, school

Welcome to At The End Of the Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter for a people-first perspective on the news. If you like what you’re reading, become a patron by paying-what-you-wish.

My kids just finished up two weeks of summer day camp.

They were living large, playing gaga ball and making endless crafts. And they adored their camp counsellors, who used portable speakers every day to crank music. 

At pick up one day, I overheard my kid ask:

“Hey, tomorrow can you play Imagine Dragons, Believer?”

“Aw yeah, that’s a banger, for sure.”

My kid’s eyes were like saucers. I could see his wheels churning: “A banger is what you call a cool song.” 

At home every evening, I’d hear stories about conversations at camp, how my kid asked the camp counsellors whether they pay taxes (what?) and how they joke about chicken nuggets all day and tell scary stories.

Finally, my kids were hanging out with OTHER PEOPLE. 

And guess what immediately happened to me? I got sick.

It started with a runny nose and I was supposed to see a friend in her backyard. I texted her about my sniffle and said I wasn’t worried because a runny nose isn’t, on its own, a symptom of Covid. “I know my symptoms,” I thought, remembering last year’s daily Covid screenings at school.

She immediately texted back. “Delta symptoms have changed. Let’s rain check.”

Oh shoot. I googled “Delta symptoms.” And indeed — symptoms are changing. The first hit I got was a story called, “Are Delta Symptoms Different?” from the New York Times. It quoted a doctor who said, “It’s a time to be humble about the fact that this is a new variant. We’re still learning.”1 The article was nine hours old.

I was humbled. The changing information had outpaced me. My confident knowledge of basic Covid facts was based on year-old information that was out-of-date.

I immediately went for a Covid test (negative, I’m happy to say). But the cold continued to grip me, making me sneeze and cough. 

Even a regular little cold is extremely fraught in a time of Covid. School, and all the germs and runny noses that come with it, hasn’t even begun.

I can be okay with changing data, and uncertainty, and emergency mode, and protecting my children — but not all at once, and not for years. I also am not okay with this when I’ve done all I can as a parent, while in-person school remains unsafe for reasons outside of my control.

All the beauty, lightness and mirth that came from going to summer day camp, that socialization that we know is so important to the development of young children, comes with so much Covid uncertainty.

A lot of that ambiguity is the changing nature of science and following the growth of evidence and data. The challenge is for our society to accept that science evolves (clearly, we’re not getting a great grade on this group project).

But another huge aspect to the uncertainty this fall is around safety measures we enact as a society. I’ve got the first, personal part of that social contract done and locked -- I’m going to keep up on reading about Covid so I can be a decent caregiver to my young kids.

That second part of the contract -- where government should be protecting us with better policy — where’s the leadership on that?

We know more about Covid than ever, Delta is more transmissible than previous variants and a million children in Ontario are too young for vaccines and heading back to school, yet the Premier of Ontario and Minister of Education have nothing to say about school and are nowhere to be seen (unless you count a fish fry). 2

Two essays this week summed up exactly how I feel.

The first is a response to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health addressing the start of school by reminding parents to get vaccinated.

Nowhere in the world can children under 12 get vaccinated, yet this is apparently the best this government can do as we head into a third pandemic school year while facing the most contagious variant of COVID-19 thus far.

This is not just inadequate; it’s a failure of monumental proportions.”3

And then there was this essay in The Atlantic, from an American writer, called “Parents are not okay.”

We began to dream of normalcy, of trips and jobs and school. But 2021’s hot vax summer only truly delivered on the hot part, as vaccination rates slowed and the Delta variant cut through some states with the brutal efficiency of the wildfires that decimated others. It happened in a flash: It was good, then it was bad, then we were right back in the same nightmare we’d been living in for 18 months. 4

The despair is real. Part of my own stress is that I don’t feel entitled to feeling bad because I know our family has it better than many (like those who have lost jobs, or do essential work in unsafe conditions, or people who are precariously housed or lonely) and YET -- it has been so difficult to live with the stress of being unvaccinated, which my kids continue to be because they’re under 12.

I don’t feel I have the right to complain from my comfortable home in a wealthy nation with vaccines. But I know that if you’re a parent of a young child, you know this feeling. So I’m just going to lay it out honestly. It feels terrible.

There’s only one thing that’s keeping me hanging on by a thread and it’s a bit of good news, meted out day by day. I’m taking heart in the fact that organizations are stepping up and doing the right thing by mandating vaccines.

In Ontario, our provincial government, in charge of healthcare and education, is failing to protect us. While they dither instead of making vaccines mandatory in healthcare settings and schools and public settings, other organizations are getting it done, one by one.

  • Universities5

  • Banks 6

  • Businesses including Rogers, Air Canada, Sun Life 7

  • Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Toronto FC and other sports teams 8

  • Every medical public officer of health in Ontario agreed they would do their own vaccine passports if the province doesn’t 9

  • School boards (including our own, the Toronto District School Board) 10

There’s more and the list of organizations grows longer every day.

This is the sliver of hope I cling to. While leaders of our provincial government don’t have the courage to do what’s right, other leaders are stepping up. 

With 73% of Canadians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, it’s clear that vaccines are what people want. And people with positions of power in organizations, meeting and voting, are making a patchwork quilt of safer Covid measures. It would’ve been great for the province to seize this moment of leadership but given the absence, I’m clinging to every instance of people using their power to lead. 

This includes people who are consistently highlighting issues of equity and access. For example, “Different Schools, Different Risks,” a story by The Local on how a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for schools 11 and this Toronto Star opinion essay on vaccine passport equity for marginalized groups of people .12

In the meantime, my kids go back to school in 13 days. Every day is a different emotional wonderland (the freaky kind, but sure, the roller coaster kind, too).

Keep calling your elected representatives, your school trustees, and keep talking to each other. 

Thank you for reading,


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Every week, I hear back from many of you with super-thoughtful responses and I really want to introduce you to each other!

Name: Imran Ahmad

City: Edmonton, AB

The last great book I read: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

What’s on my mind these days: The lack of clean water for mainly Indigenous communities for drinking and cleaning

What keeps me going: My dog Frankie and regular off-leash walks with my partner

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Work Advice

I’m thinking a lot about how to work better. I’ve also always had a secret dream of being an advice columnist (from my early love of Ann Landers to my ongoing delight with Roxane Gay).

I’ll be focusing on some work-related topics this fall.

✍️ Do you have a work-related question, quandary or need for advice? Send me your question!

I’d love to incorporate it into what I write. Perhaps I can find you some good answers. In the meantime, you’ll be helping me live my dreeeeeeam.

Further Reading:

‘Herd immunity’ no longer possible without vaccinating young children: Public Health Ontario, CP24

Vaccine mandates without teeth are just performative promises, Globe and Mail. “Canada’s Big Five banks needed a nudge but are showing more moral leadership than provincial governments, which is unexpected but welcome.”

When it comes to empathy for the unvaccinated, many of us aren’t feeling it, Toronto Star

ElectSTEM seeks to make science non-partisan by engaging more scientists in politics. I’m re-upping a newsletter Q&A I did with them last fall called, “Politics + science = YES.” Keep up with them on Twitter:


Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Twitter


Is Ontario on the verge of jeopardizing another school year before it starts? TVO. Just read every word. Nam is a friend and she’s brilliant every time out. In this essay, she said everything I needed to hear from a fellow parent


Carleton University tightens COVID-19 vaccine mandate, limits testing workarounds, Global News. It’s interesting to be up close and watch policies evolve as I prepare to teach this fall at Carleton. Thank you to every university that has taken the time, energy and resources to protect their students and staff


Vaccine passports are coming. Will they discriminate against the already marginalized? Toronto Star


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