Here’s a little story to let you know what it’s like for families with young kids in the time of COVID. The characters are strictly from my imagination and do not represent anyone I know. Similarities are coincidental. This is a story any pediatrician has heard over and over in the last 18 months. If you have your own COVID exposure or symptoms, please contact your doctor, as this story does not represent medical advice.
Let’s say there’s a family of 5, all unvaccinated: Mom (38), Dad (40), Jack (age 5), Jill (age 3) and Baby (age 6 months).
DAY ONE: Jack has been looking forward to starting kindergarten for a year, after being home for the pandemic. He goes to school in Texas, where masks are optional. The second week of school, he comes home with a fever and headache.
DAY TWO: Jack tests positive for COVID-19. Mom and Dad talk to the pediatrician, get care advice and learn that Jack stays home until he’s fever-free for 24 hours, symptoms are improving, and it’s been 10 days since his symptoms started. The whole unvaccinated family needs to quarantine as well: 14 days after Jack’s 10 days (24 days!) if they can’t isolate. Jack is potentially contagious days one to 10.
DAY THREE AND FOUR: Mom and Dad alternate virtual work and caring for the kids. Jill and Baby can’t go to daycare. Everybody’s home. Mom and dad find it impossible to isolate Jack from his siblings. You can put teens in their rooms and take them food and water, but it’s impossible to isolate young children. And impossible to work.
DAY FIVE: Jack’s fever breaks, but Jill’s fever starts. Jill tests positive for COVID and her symptoms are similar to Jack’s, but with diarrhea. Lots of diarrhea. Mom and Dad are still trying to work from home, which is a joke. Dad realizes that Jill’s diagnosis extends their quarantine and lets his boss know he’ll miss the annual convention. Mom has an important virtual work meeting that she can’t miss, even though Baby just spilled a whole box of Cheerios. Jill could be contagious to day 15.
DAY SEVEN: Mom wakes up feeling bad. Mom tries to tend to the kids in between her own coughing fits with her own pounding headache. Later that day, Baby develops a runny nose. Jack is starting to feel better, but Jill still feels sick and the groceries have run out. Jill cries for an hour because there’s no Gatorade. Mom’s and Baby’s isolation lasts until day 17.
DAY EIGHT: Dad orders grocery delivery while Mom and Baby get COVID tested. They are positive and contagious. Jack now feels well enough that he is running around the house, loud and energetic. Mom goes to bed mid-afternoon. The fatigue is terrible. She wants to but can’t sleep all day with three kids who need to be fed. Work is out of the question.
DAY NINE: Jill’s fever breaks and she is starting to feel better already. She and Jack form a harmonica band, making Mom’s headache worse. Mom and dad are in foul humor. Everyone needs a break from the house, from each other. The dog throws up on the rug, the icing on the cake.
DAY ELEVEN: Jack can finally go back to school, smiling. Jill cries in the car because it’s not fair that she can’t. It’s boring at home. Baby’s congestion seems to have settled into her chest, and her work of breathing is concerning. The pediatrician lets them know when they should go to the Emergency Center. Mom and dad take shifts watching Baby breathe all night instead of sleeping.
DAY TWELVE TO FOURTEEN: Thankfully, Baby starts to improve. Parents are exhausted and grumpy. Everyone is tired of being in the house.
DAY SIXTEEN: Jill goes back to school. Jack is in school, but many of his classmates and his teacher are out with COVID. Baby is nursing well again, finally, and her breathing has settled down. Things are looking up and Mom and Baby will soon be out of isolation. Mom is irritated by the loss of taste and smell but overall is grateful for her mild case.
DAY EIGHTEEN: Mom is finally able to get back to her job, but dad has to work from home because, not being vaccinated, his quarantine period keeps resetting to day one with each new positive case in the house. Baby has a secondary ear infection but is doing better on amoxicillin.
DAY NINETEEN: Dad has an important meeting and tries to ignore the nausea and body aches that start after lunch. Maybe it was something he ate. But when the fever starts later that evening, he knows he’s positive, too.
Dad does OK, thankfully, but the isolation countdown starts again. By day 30, Dad is finally out of isolation and feeling well enough to go to work. Just in time for his co-worker’s symptoms to start.
Thankfully, neither Jack, Jill, or Baby was the approximately one out of 100 children who is hospitalized with COVID, or the ⅓ of the hospitalized children that need critical care. Thankfully, Dad wasn’t intubated and Mom didn’t die. But COVID is real, and even with a best-case scenario and everyone recovered, it’s a major inconvenience. The physical part can be miserable, but the mental part sucks, too.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably exhausted from reading. It is much more exhausting to live it. Please get vaccinated if you can, while you can still protect yourself and your family. Please do what you can to help us get out of this pandemic mess. Be careful. Wear a mask. Protect our children who are too young to be vaccinated, and protect their teachers. For all that is still good in the world, follow this commandment: Love. Your. Neighbor.