I kinda mentally crashed and burned last week. I took a much needed week-off from writing. It was still a massively busy week, but I didn’t write or pitch anything for the past seven days. Back to work. I have several germs of opinion pieces that will get fleshed out, written, and sent around this week. In the meantime, let me just update the COVID diary here.
I am never not worried these days. This worry, one of the chief reasons for my burnout last week, is a constant dull ache that never goes away.
I’m worried about my kids. I’m desperately worried that being entombed with their parents for a such long period of time is developmentally unhealthy. There are missed major milestones and stagnating. Ian may never be able to make up this time, which is disastrous for a kid who hovers on the line between disabled and normal.
Jonah should be launching himself into adulthood with peers, gaining independence, and having adventures. Trying to make the most of a bad situation, he has pieced together various activities to fill his summer. He has an unpaid internship with the local Congressman, where he’s getting some new skills and lines for a resume. He’s picking up some spare cash by delivering food with Door Dash. He’s resurrected some old friendships with former high school chums and going to the local bar for drinks.
But he isn’t as busy as he should be. He isn’t socializing enough. The fall term is uncertain. All his classes are online, and dorms are closed. He has a lease with a new private dorm, but it’s not clear if construction will be done in time and whether his roommates will still be there with him. He might spend the fall in a dorm room alone eating McDonalds. We have no idea.
To keep the kids occupied, Steve and I have increased our parenting responsibilities. We are trying to find new and different socially distant day trips and activities to keep the boys from playing video games for 15 hours straight. On Saturday, we went to New York Botanical Gardens for the afternoon. Pictures later.
Ian’s school situation is beyond depressing. I feel like the school system has written off an entire generation of kids. More later on this.
I had a scholarship to go to an education writers’ conference in May — a typical conference with panels and evening socials in a hotel in Orlando. Obviously, that was cancelled. Last week, we had the virtual version. Honestly, I loved it.
I watched every panel, while doing something else. With the conference on the Zoom app on my iPad, I made chicken soup in the kitchen one afternoon. I listed books on the Internet. I slipped out for a doctor’s appointment. I got all the information and professional development, while doing twenty other things. I didn’t have to sit in a hard chair for seven hours and make lame chitchat with PR professionals or chase editors. I didn’t get my curly hair blown dried straight the day before or obsess about outfits.
I hope I never have to attend a real conference every again.
Back to the worries. I am worried about my parents. I haven’t hugged my mother since March. We stopped by their house on the way from our trip into the city on Saturday. For the first time in months, we sat in the kitchen and chatted with them, because it was too hot for my mom on the back porch. But they huddled on one side of the room with us on the other.
My folks are too isolated. In their 80s, they should be enjoying every moment with their grandkids, old friends, and their church. Instead, they are sitting in their house alone with the ever present terror of getting the virus. I would make them move in with us, but we can’t be distant enough from the rest of the world to make me feel secure that they would be safe here.
This situation is tragic for the oldies, too.
And my worries multiply.
I am worried about the economy. I am worried that I should be writing more to inform people about the situation. I am worried that I should be working to find solutions for my kids and for others. I am worried that the pandemic with political unrest is leading to permanent and pernicious changes in government and social life. I am worried that people with the best of intensions are bringing about a dystopian society. I am worried that people won’t get the damn vaccine when it’s available and that we’ll be stuck like this for years.
It’s hard work being a neurotic.
46 thoughts on “Never Not Worried (Plague, Day 127, July 27, 2020)”
It is a heartbreaking time. I got weepy when I got to your “I am worried that I should be writing more to inform people about the situation” because it shows the weight of the world on your personal shoulders. We’ve lost more than three parents from our close knit school community (some unexpectedly), one of whom I knew well. None of the losses are directly COVID related but they add to the miasma of sadness.
I am also deeply worried about where this ends. I have lost faith in the institutions that I used to love (CDC among them) and fear for the institutions I care about, from NOAA to NIH and have lost trust in the local police after watching the videos and misleading (lying) press outreach.
Our local public schools (which my kiddo attends) have said that school will be online until “things get better”. They have plans, they say, for synchronous education and for potential in person interactions for students with IEPs who can’t learn with out it. I think they are trying, but they did not describe an end measure for what a safe return to schools might mean. My kid will be OK in the short term but I fear for public education in general. You’ve been ringing the bells about that concern, but I am seeing it now, too. Public schools play important and diverse roles in our society. I would say that one of the main reasons I send my kid to school is for the social interactions. If school is refined to a minimum of measurable academics and support for the most vulnerable, school will no longer be something for my family. I’ll try my best to support it (as I did when my kids didn’t attend public school) but it won’t be part of our common fabric.
I do think kids like Jonah and mine are more resilient than we sometimes think. My kiddo thought about school recently, and brought of how no matter how terrible it is, he isn’t among the years of students at his school who were sent off to war (thinking about the years of World War II). He thought through how he’d try to have a non combat role in the war, but, our boys could have been storming the beaches at Normandy 70 years ago. And those who were asked and answered, and survived, were resilient.
Laura wrote, ” I am worried that people with the best of intensions are bringing about a dystopian society.”
It takes a lot of privilege to not realize that (barring someone stepping in and using their resources to fix things up), if you break things, they’re going to stay broken. And that if the things being broken are public goods, the people who are going to suffer most are the people who are most dependent on public goods.
bj wrote, “If school is refined to a minimum of measurable academics and support for the most vulnerable, school will no longer be something for my family. I’ll try my best to support it (as I did when my kids didn’t attend public school) but it won’t be part of our common fabric.”
Because there won’t be a common fabric.
Sometime over Christmas break 2019, I was working with my 1st grader on remediation and realizing that some of the materials that I was using had broader application. I checked in with the 1st grade teachers at Elementary-School-Near-MLK-BLVD, where my high schoolers have volunteered in the past. I made contact with the 1st grade teachers, sent them some samples of dry-erase workbooks that my youngest liked and then early in the spring, got input from the teachers on what they wanted, and then we ordered and delivered 80 books to the elementary school, one for each 1st grader, plus a bunch of dry erase pens.
It had been my intention to make Elementary-School-Near-MLK-BLVD my big middle-aged lady project, but for obvious reasons, that’s on hold for now. I am planning to check in with the 1st grade teachers and query them as to what office supply, teacher supply store or bookstore they would like a giftcard to, but otherwise, options are somewhat limited, given remote schooling and the need for social distancing.
Yesterday, I saw the option mentioned of setting up high schoolers and college students to volunteer with elementary students. I think there is a lot you could do remotely, even just by phone, and the parents of high schoolers and college students do want them to volunteer, both to keep them busy and for college admissions reasons. However, a remote tutoring program / buddy system is not something that individuals can do effectively at any kind of scale without some sort of organizing body. It would sure be nice if somebody would set that up…
But what we’re getting instead is all kinds of yowling about the inequity of pods and private tutoring…when there’s so little effort being expended to give families other choices.
Wow, that is a lot of worries. I really never worry about anything that isn’t my personal responsibility, and often not even that. That said, obviously Laura has worries about her children, which I would share if I were in her position, and sometimes I worry about personal finances and work, although my situation in that regard seems satisfactory at present. But the economy and the future of society are not my responsibility.
Our rising 2nd grader is now doing 3 hours of therapy 3X a week. About a month ago, one of the staffers at the therapy center got sick with COVID and then (coincidentally?) our youngest flunked her temperature checks for about two weeks, but she’s back now. I want a lot more for her than that, but we are at least minimally checking the “spending time with non-family members” box for her. If school is remote during the first part of the school year, we will keep doing therapy at least once a week as long as we can.
Our middle child (rising 10th grader) has played tennis with a handful of classmates throughout the pandemic. SO MUCH TENNIS! He had never played before. He bumped into some classmates (obvious tennis newbies) out on the courts this week. No matter what, we’re going to keep on with the tennis.
My rising college freshman has had the least social contact outside the family. She went to a very small “prom” in June that turned out a) to be attended by a COVID kid and b) was at the beginning of the big local surge, but our freshman was outside, wore a mask, did 6 feet distance mostly, stayed about an hour, etc. She also went to a very small, very distanced football field graduation ceremony about a week later. But, other than that, she hasn’t spent any time with anybody outside our family for the last 4.5 months. In fact, I believe she’s only been to the grocery store once in all that time. It’s really bad. Hometown U. is making noises about more remote classes. On the bright side, a dozen of our freshman’s high school classmates are also going to Hometown U., so even if she doesn’t make any new friends because classes are remote, it will be possible to have some sort of minimal social life, with existing friends. We’ve promised her a BBQ in Sept. or so, as we live literally across the street from campus, so it will be really easy to pull off.
My information may be incomplete, but as far as I am aware, nobody caught COVID from the kid at the outdoor “prom.” It was outdoors and there were about 30 kids, plus adult chaperones.
You should have the youngest one, or maybe all of them, take an antibody test. My daughter (ae. 26) apparently had COVID with no symptoms at all, and now tests positive for the antibodies, which is basically good news and gives me one less thing to worry about.
y81 said, “You should have the youngest one, or maybe all of them, take an antibody test. My daughter (ae. 26) apparently had COVID with no symptoms at all, and now tests positive for the antibodies, which is basically good news and gives me one less thing to worry about.”
Yeah, I am really curious whether the youngest had COVID. Her older sister (age 18) also had temperatures coming and going for a while. It would be one less thing to worry about.
Lotta false positives, though!
This article was a nice summary of the meaning of the viral test (PCR test) and the antibody tests
I am trying to worry less, though, because worrying, for example,about the young children I don’t know whose mother just died helps no one.
I am seeing plenty of that kind of personal action to help others and I agree that very few will heed the call to not do what they can to help their own children in the crisis because it may “increase inequity” (as our faq for the fall answers). But these crises are not going to be fixed by personal charity.
The systemic problems of opportunity, racism, education, and economics require more than personal action.
I’m making phone calls for Biden. Never done that kind of thing before.
“That never used to happen before.”
“Why do you call like we’re running out of time?”
“If there’s a reason he needs my calls when so many have fall’n then goddamnit I’m willing to work for it, I’m willing to work for it…”
bj said, “But these crises are not going to be fixed by personal charity. The systemic problems of opportunity, racism, education, and economics require more than personal action.”
Which is why it would be really nice if somebody would make the effort to organize and mobilize individual activities in a constructive and productive way.
A lot of people (especially young people) have A LOT of free time right now that could be spent more productively than either a) 15 hours of gaming a day or b) daily protests.
I think the protests are important and constructive.
When has any important socio-political change come without protests?
Although I disapprove of large gatherings and thus do not support the protests for that reason, I also think that they are often constructive. And, sometimes are also doing the personal service and outreach. My kiddo has been staffing an aid bookstore (that gives away free books).
At some point there’s a point of diminishing returns.
I think we got there 6-7 weeks ago.
Does anybody think that just one more day or one more month of protesting is going to end racism and police brutality? Protests are supposed to be a means to an end, but at this point, protest looks like it’s become an end in itself–a non-stop street party for the age demographic with the highest current number of COVID cases. When you look at all the major corporations and politicians at all levels who have jumped on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon, you kind of want to ask yourself–who is being marched against?
As somebody who is generally sympathetic toward police reform, I want to know, when does the legislation start happening? From where I sit, it looks like people are enjoying the hot fudge sundae of street protests while avoiding the broccoli of having to think about what their goals are and if they make any sense. There’s been a lot of dishonesty and wishful thinking about the likely results of abolishing or defunding the police. As other people have pointed out, Western Europe actually spends MORE than the US on police.
We’re already living with the consequences of the de-policing experiment–a spike in shootings and killings in cities around the US. There are kids (mostly black kids) dying who probably would be alive today were it not for the current lawlessness.
How is testing in your states? I know several people who have been tested in our state’s covid testing sites (one of which is being run in the former car emissions testing facility). They have had good experiences (no significant line, turn around within 72 hours). And, they all tested negative. They tested before/after travel (and, not, I think because of symptoms).
My daughter got tested today along with her friend at a random nearby urgent care office here in MA. She doesn’t really have a doctor here because she is young and doesn’t need one often, and when she does she goes in Ithaca.
I called my PCP and apparently they do testing for patients in the parking lot of their building! I am going Thursday and am hoping to get results back in a week. As I do not go anywhere, I’m not worried about picking up anything in the meantime.
He might spend the fall in a dorm room alone eating McDonalds. We have no idea.
I’m sure there will be
superspreader gatheringsfrat parties for him to go to.
Which is why I am not super-psyched for in-person school or college right now. They are predicated on people acting virtuously and responsibly, when the past six months has proved to be a master-class in people *not* doing so.
I totally get the anxiety. I worry a lot about the fall and also the economic fallout for myself and my former staff. Like many of you I’ve been through 9/11 and the 2008 crash and I know that this is just the start – companies that aren’t doing massive layoffs yet probably will. But I support shutdowns and keeping people alive, because it’s people that are ultimately important. In my darkest hours, usually too late on Twitter, I wonder if I would make it through losing another child because I’ve experienced that 1:10,000 medical event. I also just about a decade ago finally recovered enough from some lung issues to start running and I still viscerally remember what not having lung capacity was like. So my anxiety tends to centre on that.
I can’t say for Ian or other kids with special needs. For my own, I do think this time will leave tracks on them. I’m worried about grade 10 math for my eldest as it’s a make-or-break year in the curriculum here. My youngest is having some issues being the youngest constantly. But I don’t worry that they won’t catch up later – largely because everyone is going through it. I think that is one difference with having non-special needs kids though.
I actually popped in to say I saw your piece in The Atlantic about the trauma-focused classroom and it was great to read and learn about. Although being a “good girl,” my PTSD didn’t manifest in meltdowns, so I might not have been ID’d as a child, that would have helped me so much…I stalled out in university and had to do a lot of therapy. I also see the benefits of techniques like they are showing in my work with our martial arts-based afterschool program – a lot of our students (pre-covid, we’re not sure yet what’s going on this fall) have ADHD, are on the autistic spectrum, or have other issues, maybe trauma, and they come off our bus in such a high-adrenaline state from school. We get them moving in a structured way right away, and we have do-overs and teach a lot of techniques. I’m glad to see that need and the way it can make a huge difference getting attention.
Another worry that I have, which I’m keeping to the comment section, is that Ian’s epilepsy is bad. We keep upping the dosage and it’s not working. He is throwing up all the time. I don’t know if its a reaction to this medicine or it’s part of his micro-seizures. He’s 5’10” and only weights about 120 pounds. I’m buying boxes of Dunkin Donuts and liters of soda to try to fatten him up. If he gets sick with COVID, he won’t be strong enough to fight it off. If he keeps throwing up, they won’t let him go to school.
That’s really hard. My dad is on anti-seizure medication and it took quite a while to get right…he threw up on a generic and did not on the name brand; I don’t know if that’s helpful for you but that was the magic finding that resolved things. (His seizures were related to a brain aneurysm.) I assume it could go either way if they’re just a bit differently put together.
Lots of care to you and Ian. Not COVID or the breakdown of government related, but I managing a health issue on top of everything else in the world.
I don’t know if you want or need to hear this, but I said to a friend who was diagnosed with cancer right before the pandemic quarantines begin, a friend who does a lot (and wants to do a lot) that the world or even our small neck of the world was not her responsibility right now. I told her I’d manage the work we did together. She fills her well by helping others, though, so I didn’t want to say I’d take over, but that I’d do anything she doesn’t want to do, that I could do. I hope you are able to manage your tasks to the ones you want and need to do.
Also, I’ve just started the article, and am looking forward to learning from it. I think I’ve said it before, but when I see an article in the Atlantic that could have been written by you but then turns out to not be, I’m always sorely disappointed. Keying up one of your articles gives me a sense of anticipation of time to be well spent.
Ha. Thank you. The Atlantic doesn’t really have an education section anymore. There’s no editor in charge. They got a sack of money from some foundations to do a series on teachers and asked me to contribute, but I think it’s a one-off. I might try to get something in the Ideas section, but that’s the only way to get an education in there right now.
Also, I subscribed to the Atlantic because of your occasional articles. I keep subscribing for all the articles, but yours were the ones that pushed me over the edge.
And, just in case, I like your other articles, too — particularly annoying when the one’s at edutopia & hechinger report arn’t by you 😦
Just saw the comment on worries of I. Thinking of you all. We have dear friends with a similar diagnosis and after much trial and error and hospital visits and scary moments, they seem to have landed on a medicine plan that is actually working. I’m hoping you find a similar outcome. (But it is always shocking to me how much our modern medicine practice is done through trial-and-error when the brain is involved.)
(& I’ve clicked on your awesome article from BOTH my computers and my phone today to give them triple the analytics!)
–Both husband and college freshman are going to be mailed DIY COVID swab kits by Hometown U as part of the mandatory pre-term mass testing. This will be the freshman’s second round of COVID testing.
–Our local TX positivity is trending down and the new case count is down very significantly. But the college kids are coming back soon…
–I have zoom town halls this week with our private school administration. They had one last night for the upper school. A pediatrician dad was one of the people on the panel and was very encouraging. He’s very concerned about the impact of isolation on child mental health.
–Asked about mask replacement, the pediatrician dad said (regarding surgical masks) that if you can taste your mask, replace it!
–School is giving everybody the chance to choose remote or in-person. You lock in for the first two weeks, but after that, you can switch back and forth with one week’s notice. (Presumably less in the case of illness.)
–Teachers will be simultaneously teaching in-person, streaming, and attempting to loop in remote kids. They are getting additional support staff to make this double duty possible.
–Classes will be recorded so that kids who have technical problems can watch later. They are planning to have at least a teacher cam and a board cam.
–Remote kids will have an individual weekly check-in with all teachers and must have each previous week’s work turned in by Monday.
–They want to bring remote kids in for electives. (I would personally just pull the plug on choir for this term.) They will be teaching the full curriculum, not the truncated version we got this spring. There will also be normal grades, as opposed to pass-fail.
–They’re still working on how to do labs. The tech guy (who is also the physics teacher) said that there are some very good digital physics labs, but the head of school said that they want the AP kids to be able to do labs in person, even remote kids. However, the remote kids probably won’t be doing 100% of labs in person.
–Teachers are supposed to have 2 weeks of lessons ready in case of need for a substitute.
–There was a question about confidentiality. In case of a positive kid, classmates/contacts will be informed. However, if a parent is positive but a kid is not, there won’t be an announcement. It will technically be confidential, but I feel like being suddenly absent 2+ weeks is a bit of a tell in a small school community.
–Kids in quarantine who aren’t seriously ill can just jump in with remote learning.
–School will be in talks with the county about the need for closures.
–The upper school kids will wear masks indoors. If they don’t want to, they can go remote.
–They’ll be able to get boxed hot lunch. The kids will eat outdoors in tents. School has ordered a bunch of tents. They will also be used for larger classes.
–School is going to be using a disinfectant that leaves a long-acting barrier.
–There’s been some sort of TX political brouhaha about school closures:
More in a bit.
–Our school re-opening task force (who has produced our re-opening plan) consists of teachers, doctors and first responders (police, fire fighter).
–The state of Texas has given our school thousands of masks, some gloves, and 46 gallons of hand sanitizer. That’s helpful.
–They are using MERV-13 filters in some classrooms and air purifiers in others.
–There will be plexiglass barriers between lab stations (because the kids face each other)
–There will be nightly wipe-downs.
–There will be in-car temp checks at drop-off.
–There will be one-way hallway traffic in the upper school.
–They want to minimize traffic back and forth to lockers.
–Start times will be staggered to reduce indoor traffic.
–Kids will be encouraged to use hand sanitizer as they leave and enter rooms.
–School can’t really do 6 foot distancing in the upper school if everybody comes back at the same time, but it should be possible in the lower school.
–School wants to start with a smaller group of students and work up to full capacity. Currently, 30% of families intend to start remote.
–School will be able to provide Chromebooks to remote kids who need them.
–There will be an effort to provide social engagement for remote kids.
–If a kid has a sick family member, they will need to quarantine.
–The level of exposure requiring quarantine is: either 15 minutes of proximity or being coughed/sneezed on.
–They will have box fans for the tents.
–Parents will be asked to supervise/proctor to ensure the integrity of remote academic testing.
We have another townhall for little kids soon. I expect that they will have to be less strict about masks with the littlest kids. But the little kids can kept in pods, which you can’t with the big kids.
School normally has 15-16 kids per class in the lower grades, so if any families choose remote, it should be easy to space them out in the classroom.
Some more thoughts:
–There is some point in letting smaller schools go first with re-opening, as (all things being equal), they are less likely to blow up than larger schools.
–Elementary schools a) are better set up for keeping small groups together all day and mostly in one place and b) are typically much smaller than high schools in terms of total enrollment.
–I believe that there’s been a lot of success internationally with opening up elementary schools.
Nice summary of what your private school is doing and intrigued to hear how it is being funded. Our public school has gone all remote, saying that the virus needs to be “in control” before they will open (and, we are much better off than Texas in terms of cases & positivity & deaths). At least one private (which is heavily invested in tech learning and is a 5-12, so no younger elementary) is going remote. Others are planning hybrid. No one is bringing everyone back every day.
bj said, “Nice summary of what your private school is doing and intrigued to hear how it is being funded.”
Thanks! I’m really interested to hear how this is all going to be adjusted for the lower school. I may have an update on that soon. They are offering everybody the choice of in-person or remote, but it sounds like they need/want a certain percentage of kids to be remote, at least to begin with.
I don’t know about the funding. The support staff part sounds expensive.
I believe that the local public schools aren’t starting in any format until after Labor Day, which is 2-3 weeks later than normal. I got a flyer from the therapy center that our youngest goes to, saying that in view of the late school start, kids have been automatically signed up to continue their summer therapy schedules. They continue to limit the number of kids that each therapist deals with weekly (3?), as well as limiting the number of kids in groups (2 at a time, I believe).
This is what I came here meaning to post:
“But contact-tracing programs have presented an array of challenges to government officials everywhere, including difficulties hiring many workers, privacy issues and faulty technology, like apps. And New York City’s seems to have been especially plagued by problems.
“The de Blasio administration acknowledged that the program, which began on June 1, had gotten off to a troubled start, but said that improvements had been made.”
“Still, some contact tracers described the program’s first six weeks as poorly run and disorganized, leaving them frustrated and fearful that their work would not have much of an impact.
“They spoke of a confusing training regimen and priorities, and of newly hired supervisors who were unable to provide guidance. They said computer problems had sometimes caused patient records to disappear. And they said their performances were being tracked by call-center-style “adherence scores” that monitor the length of coffee breaks but did not account for how well tracers were building trust with clients.”
“The mayor himself may have added obstacles in May when he abruptly stripped the program from the city’s Department of Health, which has long handled contact tracing, and moved it to the city’s public hospitals agency, which had no experience in contact tracing.”
From the contact tracing article:
Salaries were very solid entry level–“Recruiters for the program described flexible positions that were largely remote and paid $57,000 to $65,000 a year.”
“But as the program started, management was confusing and chaotic, tracers said in interviews.
“Supervisors were as inexperienced as the tracers. The tracers began to reach out to one another for help after an orientation email included the email addresses of more than 300 of the new hires, perhaps inadvertently.
““I really do not have a clue what I am expected to do,” one new supervisor wrote to the group on May 27.”
“Tracers were frequently confused about what to do with different types of calls. For example, many said they were told to ignore pediatric coronavirus cases. Then they said they were told they could interview parents of the children. (Health and Hospitals said pediatric calls were initially routed to a special team those tracers did not know about.)
“The program went back and forth about whether it was OK to interview a sick person’s health care proxies, or what to say when a worker at a nursing home answered the phone.”
““I feel like all of this is such a disaster,” one tracer wrote in Slack on June 10.”
“Because of the siloed structure of the call center operation, which does not allow case investigators to hold on to specific clients, five or six tracers might call the same person.”
“When tracers called people infected with the coronavirus, they had to take them through a 16-step script that began with questions about race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and that took about 45 minutes.”
“”The question about whom they may have exposed to the virus — the crucial part — was step No. 11.
““You get to the end of the call, step 11, and by that time, people are so fed up that they are not willing to provide that information,” one tracer said.”
(They’ve since fixed some of these issues.)
“Tracers asked those reached over the phone to name anyone they had been in close contact with, defined as within six feet for at least 10 minutes. But they did not ask where patients might have exposed someone outside their homes, making it harder to identify clusters.”
It’s not too late to get this together for NYC.
Related: my medium-sized city was managing daily calls to people sick with COVID up until late June when cases exploded and they just couldn’t keep up anymore. Also possibly related: somebody high up in our local health department was fired recently, for undisclosed reasons.
Johns Hopkins has an online contact tracing course through Coursera: “COVID-19 Contact Tracing” by Emily Gurley. It’s helpful with some of the info on how this all works. I’ve gotten stuck at the point where you learn to actually talk to people (observations of “simple” calls).
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