My child’s Covid scare: a lesson for the upcoming school year

Last week, my 15 year old daughter came into direct contact with another teen who tested positive for Covid-19. Luckily, my daughter eventually tested negative for Covid, but I learned a lot in that week about the realities of dealing with this virus, from getting a test to trying to isolate a child from the rest of the family. Our family’s week from hell is a cautionary tale for school re-openings and some advice for other parents who might find themselves in this situation.

The initial exposure happened on a Monday morning. My 15 year old was at practice with a group of girls. We parents got a text at 10 AM to pick up our girls because a mother of one of the girls had tested positive for Covid. I picked her up and she told us that she had been talking to the girl with no mask for more than 15 minutes. As per CDC guidelines, we isolated our daughter in our house. We were one of many families affected that morning.

Before I share what I learned, I want to make clear that, as a former classroom teacher, I strongly believe that the best education my kids can get is with their teachers in person, in a classroom. But I also understand the realities of where we are right now. I’m not advocating for all virtual learning or all in-person learning. I am not equipped with enough information (or a crystal ball) to give advice on that front. I also believe that parents who choose a virtual learning program, or choose a hybrid model, or choose in-person learning are all doing what is right for their family and their children.

What I learned, as applicable for the upcoming school year.

People will make piss poor decisions. The parent who initially tested positive had mild symptoms and an outstanding Covid test and STILL sent her daughter to this group activity. Had she waited one day or even one hour, we could have avoided a week of stress and anxiety. It took me a full week to let go of my anger and try to stand in her shoes, so to speak. Maybe she didn’t want her kid to miss out because they had been on vacation the week before. Maybe she thought it wasn’t Covid. Maybe she was in denial. We all have been guilty of going to work sick, or sending our kids somewhere even if they felt a little off. However, in these times, it seems like common sense that if you have an outstanding Covid test because you don’t feel well, you stay home and your family stays home until you find out the results. But when results take 2–8 days (depending on where you get the test), sometimes people are going to roll the dice and hope Lady Luck is on their side. I guarantee this will happen in schools within one week of opening.

Kids will be around other kids without masks sometimes. Before you judge that the girls were not wearing masks, think about all of the people your child is around right now without a mask. Do they have “safe” friends with whom they are allowed to hang out? Are they wearing masks the whole time? What if one of those parents tests positive? Yes, our children do wear masks, but sometimes they don’t. Just like adults. We cannot expect mask wearing 100% of the time in schools. I don’t say that with judgment, I’m just stating a fact.

Doctor’s offices are not the same. My daughter’s pediatricians’ office was AMAZING. They ordered a test once they found out she had been in direct contact with a positive case. They also helped to contact the testing site to try to expedite a testing appointment because my daughter was so anxious. However, many other girls were not as lucky. Some doctors would not order the test, even with close contact with a positive Covid case. Some parents had to pay for testing and use an outside service, and even those appointments were hard to get, let alone challenging to figure out who was actually doing testing in our area. I do not know the reason why their doctors would not order the test, but it caused an extreme amount of stress for these other moms and their kiddos. We need a protocol for when and how to test. We need to help families who don’t have the resources to find testing on their own.

Life for the whole family stops. If your child has a possible Covid exposure, the whole family is affected. We canceled appointments, rearranged work schedules, and basically went back to April 2020, when we were just in the house or outside. It was disrupting. And challenging. It’s *easy* to quarantine when the whole country is in lock down, but when your state is in Phase 3 and life has resumed (or whatever we are calling it), shutting things down is hard. If this happens to you, be prepared for massive disruption and then multiply that by the number of families affected.

Quarantining a child is emotionally draining. My daughter is one of the most even-keeled, low-key kiddos you will meet. But this brought out a side of her that we don’t really see. She was allowed to be in her bedroom and on the deck or in the yard. I brought her food. My son used a different bathroom and kept his distance from her. The more she had to isolate, the more anxious and withdrawn she became. She spent a lot of time on her phone and ipad face-timing her friends. Her brother missed her. My husband and I missed her. Now think about kids needing to quarantine during the school year. How does that work? Are they expected to do school work? Do they need a re-entry protocol? Will there be lingering anxiety when they return? Will other kids make fun of them? Or will this be the norm? [Where’s Tim? Oh he’s out on his 14 day quarantine.]

Parents will react differently, even when in the same situation. We parents have a visceral reaction when our kids are in danger. We protect our kids at all costs. The reactions from the moms and dads of the exposed children were as varied as the research that is out there for Covid. Some parents didn’t feel the need to test. Some wanted every single person who was there that day tested, even if they did not come in contact with the girl. Text messages flew around the group, asking questions, linking to articles, monitoring symptoms (thankfully there were none). If you think the Mommy Network was strong before Covid, wait until a positive case shows up in your kid’s classroom.

The waiting is the hardest. We waited for the girl’s test to come back for three days. We waited for symptoms to show up. Once we knew the girl was positive, we waited 36 hours for a testing appointment. Then we waited 48 hours for my daughter’s test results. Then we waited for my daughter’s friends’ test results. Then we waited until the 14 days were up after the first exposure to make sure there were no symptoms for anyone. If you think that’s a lot of waiting and quarantining, you are correct. Is the 14 day wait period overkill? What about if you get a negative test and have no symptoms? What effect will that time frame have on our schools?

So here are my take-aways. First, there is simultaneously not enough information out there and too much information out there. It’s exhausting to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. Second, the people affected by just one person testing positive is exponential. Take our family of four and multiply that by at least nine other families and then the people they came into contact with. How far down the “Covid exposure ladder” does one go? Who isolates and who does not? Third, testing in this country is crap. There are not enough places to test, nor is it easy to get a test. Our family was lucky to have health care and money to pay for a test (if it had come to that). Fourth, and most importantly, in hindsight it wasn’t the quarantining that got to me. It was the unknown of the virus. Sure, many people get mild or no symptoms, but what if one of us got a more severe case? What if it damaged our heart? Our lungs? What if?

For me, the “what ifs” were the scary part. I’m glad last week is over, but I also know that this is just the beginning.

Amy was a teacher for 22 years and now spends her time teaching fitness classes, training for marathons and triathlons, and trying to raise two teenagers.

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