We hunkered down, worked from home, wore masks, shopped online, did virtual school (the whole time), joined a pandemic pod, avoided large gatherings, ate outside, and my husband and I got vaccines the second we were eligible. Yet, as I write this, our 8-year-old daughter is upstairs in her room, under a fort of blankets, with a sore throat, fever, cough and a confirmed case of COVID.
Where did we go wrong?
It seemed like such a good idea, and if you ask our daughter, it was. In fact, those seven weeks of daycamp were the best of her entire pandemic experience. It was a small group of 10 kids, all wearing masks and banded together in a “super session” that was supposed to last eight weeks. My daughter says it felt like they’d known each other forever by Day 3. But last Thursday, we got word that one of the kids had tested positive for COVID, and the whole camp section was shutting down, effective immediately. That meant no final week, no goodbyes, no culminating cardboard boat race.
We were handed a letter that said we had to quarantine until Aug. 17th, unless our child received a negative COVID test, taken no earlier than Sunday, the 8th. We got an appointment right away, assuming it would lead to faster freedom. By Saturday afternoon, however, our daughter had developed a fever, and had a scratchy throat. Both persisted into Sunday, when she took a rapid PCR test, and the doctor called us with the bad news that night.
Now, as I write this Monday afternoon, she’s holed up in her bedroom, steadily worsening, and taking video calls and tablet time under the fort she built out of her bedcovers in the morning, when she was feeling better. Her dad and I wear a mask around her, and she, around us and the dog — the pandemic puppy we brought home exactly one year ago. I just finished disinfecting all the shared surfaces and am alternating between resigned acceptance and rank anxiety: COVID-19 is in my house. It is in my child, the one person I fervently hoped it would never touch. And it is likely in me, waging battle with my vaccine-boosted cells. I can’t yet tell if the scratchiness in my own throat is sympathetic or real, and I can’t get tested until Thursday to search for a “breakthrough” case of COVID.
I also can’t imagine how elementary school is going to work in the fall, with no vaccine yet available for the under 12 set.
Damn you, delta.
Don’t get me wrong: I know it’s time for kids to go back in person; the sheer happiness those weeks of on-site camp brought my daughter convinced me of that. But I’m far from certain that schools are ready for the reality.
Returning to classrooms of two dozen or more kids and cafeteria lunches sounds like the perfect science fair project. Hypothesis: If the delta variant of COVID is more contagious than the version that shuttered schools and now the most prevalent, then collecting unvaccinated children together will provide a fertile breeding ground.
Those districts that will be doing blind, group testing of K-5 classrooms had better be ready to reinstitute virtual schooling for two weeks at a time when the positives start rolling in. And the districts that are still waffling over whether to wear masks indoors need to ask themselves whose interests they’re serving. It’s certainly not the kids’.
Delta has caused a surge in pediatric COVID-19 cases, with numbers rapidly rising throughout July to now. In the week ending June 24th, states reported 8,447 child COVID cases; in the week ending Aug. 5th, they were up to 93,824. And in the week ending Aug. 12th, my daughter — whose fever will rise above 104 degrees later tonight and stay that way through much of Tuesday — will be among the thousands.
Don’t you dare tell me kids aren’t at risk.
We’re only a few days in and don’t yet know what the full illness will look like for her (I highly recommend the free UMMS coronavirus nurse call line if you or a family member is ill and you have questions: 888-713-0711). She’s not one of those kids who gets COVID and shows no symptoms; that much is clear. She’s miserable right now, her little body hot all over, her head congested and her throat on fire. What’s unclear is whether she’s one of those kids who has a flu-like experience that runs its course in a week or two, or if she’s among the kids who get pneumonia or multisystem inflammatory syndrome or long COVID, with its potential for lasting neurological effects.
My husband and I had been hoping our precautions meant we’d never have to find out. At least we can say we made the effort. It’s a cold comfort.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun’s opinion editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).