Just keep swimming? How COVID-19 is impacting one UNO student’s summer


Ashly Willis 

Afnan Mohammad and her 7-year-old autistic son Faris are navigating a summer that is full of COVID-19 restrictions. Photo courtesy of Afnan Mohammad.

Swimming pools, a favorite summer past-time for many kids, was postponed for at least a month later than expected, putting “summer” on hold for many kids and their families. 

For the first time in a long time, the pools remain dry and lakes unoccupied as the COVID-19 guidelines are still in effect. Certain pools in Omaha are remaining closed for the 2020 season and others opened on July 1 with scheduled times to clean the pools. These limitations place challenges on parents and children alike.

Afnan Mohammad, a UNO student, is facing these summer challenges with Faris, her 7-year-old autistic son. Since the pandemic Mohammad, her boyfriend and son have been confined to their home in Council Bluffs, 90% of the time.

“It is really awful and boring,” she said. “Not only do I have to think of myself in not having the ability to travel to school and back, while working my full-time job at Amazon, I also now have to find ways to constantly entertain my son, which makes things hard when he can’t really communicate on his own.”

Mohammad said it has also been hard to explain all the reasons he can’t go out and have fun as much as he’s used to. It’s difficult, as any mother would agree, that any child Faris’ age should be cooped up all summer.

Thankfully, Mohammad has not lost hope in making this summer one that both she and her son will remember. 

“We usually go to our friend’s house who has a big pool anyway. But since COVID-19, this friend’s pool has become one of the safest outdoor activities for my son. We have known this friend for a long time and has me less worried than if he were in a lake or at the beach,” said Mohammad. 

Mohammad hasn’t completely steered clear of packed beaches in recent weeks, but when she went out she got a wake-up call. 

“There was one time about two weeks ago that I tried to visit a beach or lake with Faris just to get a different atmosphere and I quickly realized we had to leave because of how many people were there,” said Mohammad. “I wasn’t opposed to the idea before but now that I have experienced it for myself, I do think that public pools should stay closed.”

According to the Water Monitoring Programs Report, which varies by state, Nebraska’s groundwater quality is tested almost every year and the manual is updated with the most recent results. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the water quality has seen a rapid decline in the quality of lake water because of the higher density of people visiting. 

“Currently there are six lakes with high E. coli bacteria present and one lake with high Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) health concerns with the lakes mostly within the Northeastern part of the state. This bacterium, if ingested, could lead to further complications in fighting off the COVID-19 virus,” stated Nebraska’s Department of Environment and Energy website. 

“I’m definitely worry about germs,” said Mohammad. “Therefore, I sanitize all of Faris’ toys every time after our trips.” 

These sanitation efforts aren’t something new for Mohammad. Faris navigates the world through his five senses, especially with touch and taste due to his autism. Mohammad said he has a lot of stuff near his mouth most of the time anyway and that’s what makes her nervous in dealing with this new normal. 

“Asking myself, ‘How long will this pandemic last and when will things go back to normal?’ are both questions I frequently think about every time I look at my son,” said Mohammad. “I just want him to have a normal childhood and I know I am not the only mother out there who may be thinking this right now.”

Mohammad isn’t alone in her concerns about when her city and state might reopen again. While reopening might not happen right away, she has noticed that many people are still not following the guidelines correctly.

“I am still in shock that this is happening, and people aren’t really necessarily paying attention to the guidelines put in place when out in public places to keep all of us safe. I hope this all ends soon, for the safety of everyone, including my son and I,” said Mohammad.

Mohammad, like the rest of us, awaits the day when some sense of normalcy returns; she said it is the one thing that has kept her sane during this time.