I’m starting this post with a disclaimer: we had an extremely mild case compared to many people in this country and the world.
This post is meant only to give an example of what to expect when you test positive and the steps that are likely to take place. By no means am I indicating that my experience is a barometer to measure the experience of all other families. And to those who have suffered with illness and loss, we are deeply humbled by our own (limited) experience.
On a Tuesday, I was at my office when I started to feel like I might be getting a cold. Normally this would give me little pause, but of course, since we live in a pandemic, my mind immediately wondered if it could be COVID-19. But how?
Naively, I felt fairly safe with all of the precautions that we have been taking. We did not socialize except outside, very rarely. We wore masks everywhere. Our children were in school, but my husband has been working from home since March 2020, and I go into a very minimally populated office and work alone. I wear a mask on my way to the bathroom and back. We were as cautious as we could be without staying home entirely.
The next day, despite feeling just low-grade cold symptoms, I decided to get a COVID test. My husband thought I was overreacting. The rapid test came back positive.
I panicked. My kids had been in school; we had just seen some family outside days before. Who had we exposed!?
I called the school nurse immediately, and she told me what to expect in the form of a phone call from the health department. She prepared me that my children would be out of school for at least 10 days past the last day of my quarantine which ends 10 days from the day I first felt symptoms. She recommended that I try to isolate myself in the house as much as possible. My husband started sleeping downstairs. I ate alone in my room and wore a mask when walking around the house. The next day we all went for the PCR test. That test came back positive for me and negative for my husband and 3 children.
The first four days of feeling ill were scary. I went to bed each night wondering if I would spike a high fever and not be able to breathe.
My children were scared. We tried to reassure them, but I’m not sure how successful they were given the reality they were facing. They knew full well what the diagnosis could mean and that there is no real telling how it will manifest for each person.
Luckily, I would describe my symptoms as a moderate cold.
I had a low-grade fever, never going above 100.4, and significant congestion. I experienced wheezing and some chest pain for about two days but never had a headache. After about day four, I lost my sense of smell entirely. It’s still not completely back to normal one month later.
After a week of wearing a mask everywhere and sleeping separately, my husband went with the children to get tested again. He had started feeling like maybe he was getting it a few days before but wanted to be certain before we eased the restrictions.
He was positive for COVID-19, and the children were negative again.
After a week of walking around masked, we decided that I should take it off and behave more “normally.” At that point, they had been exposed to me before my diagnosis and to my husband all week unmasked, so the exposure had surely already taken place.
We then also learned that due to the second exposure (my husband), the children’s quarantine would take place 10 days from the last day of my husband’s based on when his symptoms started. All told, they missed one full month of in-person learning.
Once I was feeling better (my husband’s case was even milder than mine), it was then a matter of finding time for both of us to work and manage (poorly) the distance learning for our typical 10-year-old (she was on her own) and our 8-year-old with autism and ADHD. Luckily, we have an incredibly understanding school, and they could limit his lessons to just two live sessions daily. Our 2-year-old was essentially raising herself even more than usual. My husband worked until 1 p.m., and then I was able to see some clients virtually when I felt physically up to it.
I have a few thoughts about how we managed for that month. Firstly, of course, we were fortunate to be manageably sick and not devastatingly so. Second, you can only do your best to keep separate from your children when they are small. It’s not practical for many families, and we have to take that stress off of our plates—the “what ifs” in the situation can truly take over your mind. A two-year-old needs to be bathed and have their diaper changed. Isolation from a two-year-old is not possible or practical, especially when you have multiple children.