As the coronavirus continues to surprise us with new variants, many folks are flummoxed by mandates and protocols that are vague, confusing, and changing daily. In this series, our correspondents around the country report on their region’s messaging and management of the latest stage of the pandemic.
– PERSPECTIVE –
Election Day, 2020. Our family of four heads for our local polling place with a “We are positive for Coronavirus” sign in our window. We had been assured that we would not have a problem voting from our car, and we felt strongly that our voices be heard in this election. We debated whether we should go, but we felt like we should. It had certainly been a year in which it seemed important to make your voice heard.
That strange day, which was also my daughter’s fourth birthday, capped off a very rough eight months. My son, then 18 months old, has respiratory problems, and we had kept him and his sister out of school since the middle of March because we were concerned that COVID-19 would make him seriously sick.
My full-time office job had transitioned to being fully remote at the beginning of the pandemic, but my husband’s manufacturing job had not. That summer, however, my company selected my team as one of the first to return. I negotiated a schedule of one day a week in the office while my husband transitioned to working one day each weekend so we could cover child care.
A week before Election Day, in spite of masks, temperature screenings, and social distancing, my husband contracted COVID-19 at work and then passed it along to the rest of us.
As omicron arrived along with the holiday season, it seemed like everyone I knew began catching COVID-19.
Our COVID-19 week was scary and stressful. My son was the sickest of all of us; I had an overnight bag ready in case we needed to rush to the hospital, but thankfully, that moment never came. I lost a lot of hair, and my senses of taste and smell have not returned to normal, but we all recovered. With encouragement from their doctor, we put the kids back in day care in January 2021.
A few months later, the vaccines arrived. Because we had already contracted COVID-19, we waited until the shots were widely available — we didn’t want to take a vaccine from someone who needed it more than we did. In April, I headed to a mass vaccination at a local sports arena. It was a surreal experience; people around me were clapping, crying, and celebrating. There were hashtags and selfie locations posted everywhere. How would I remember this moment? Would I celebrate it? Would I regret it? I felt anxious taking a vaccine that had only emergency use authorization, but the risk seemed worth it. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Things started to return to something closer to normal… and then came the delta variant.
In August, around the time delta began surging, we received a call that my daughter had been exposed to COVID-19 in her class. We quarantined, and I tested the kids with rapid antigen tests I had at home. My daughter tested negative, but my son — who was not supposed to have been exposed at school — tested positive twice. All three of us developed symptoms again, but they were milder this time around. We all did PCR testing; my son was positive, but my daughter and I were negative. The pediatrician told us to assume that we were both positive as well since we had symptoms and a confirmed case in our house, but we’ll never know.
As the pandemic pressed on, my anxiety decreased since we had already been infected twice and made it through unscathed. We were still cautious around our older parents and unvaccinated relatives, but, with the likely immunity conferred by two COVID-19 infections and full vaccination status for my husband and me, our risk of transmitting the virus seemed low. When my daughter turned five, we questioned whether to get her vaccinated. Did she still need it? Would it prevent future infection? As it had for me, the vaccine for her has only emergency use authorization. After speaking with her pediatrician, I decided to hold off on the vaccine for now, but the question remains.
As omicron arrived along with the holiday season, it seemed like everyone I knew began catching COVID-19. We made it through the holidays, and I hoped that this meant we were still immune. Then, about two weeks ago, one of my daughter’s friends came over for a play date with a mild cough, which turned out to be COVID-19.
So here we are in quarantine again.
Before omicron, I stocked up on at-home antigen tests, but we have used nearly all of them and can’t find more anywhere. As soon as my daughter developed symptoms, we all took PCR tests. These results have been so delayed, however, that I used one of our remaining rapid tests for her. The test line turned pink before the fluid even reached the control line.
Six days after my symptoms started, I used one of my last rapid antigen tests to see whether I could safely go to the grocery store. It was very positive. That same day, after 160 hours of waiting, I finally got the PCR results for my son and me; both were negative. We still do not have results for my daughter or husband. Because I had symptoms but a negative PCR test, I do not know when my quarantine period should have begun and when I can safely leave. Unfortunately, we are almost out of rapid tests, and waiting another 160-plus hours for PCR results will not be helpful. We also need to figure out how to get our kids safely back to school.
Although my company had employees return to the office the first week of January, I am again working from home while caring for both children as we await our full set of test results. The return requirements after exposure and after infection for my husband, kids, and me are all different. For example, while exposed but asymptomatic, my work required a 10-day quarantine or a five-day quarantine ending with a negative test. My husband’s job wanted him in the office as long as he was symptom-free; my kids needed a 10-day quarantine or a negative test, but they could test after only three days. It’s hard to keep up.
We were able to order our household supply of rapid tests from the Biden administration and will keep looking for a restock. Meanwhile, we wait.
Elizabeth Miller is a mother of two and an engineer living in the South.