Yes- even Those Nerdy Girls are not invincible to the wrath of COVID-19.
Dr. Ashley Ritter, Dear Pandemic’s Chief Nerd, here to share my family’s experience with COVID-19 infection.
The moral of the story: Unvaccinated children can spread COVID-19 in their household, even among vaccinated housemates. Adults and kids 5 and older – GO GET VACCINATED!
I have three children ages 3, 6, and 8. We wear our masks in public. My husband and I are vaccinated. We avoid indoor and crowded settings. We are in the practice of using rapid tests at home, typically before visiting my father who is severely immunocompromised. My daughters are in elementary school with masking and some mitigation measures in place. That’s our normal.
We were 2 weeks shy of getting our 6 and 8 year old vaccinated. TWO. WEEKS. So close! Two weeks before the older two were eligible for vaccination, our 6 year old tested positive for COVID-19. The timing was a real sucker punch.
My 6 year old had basically no symptoms to start and no known exposure. A vague and fleeting belly ache with a negative rapid test followed by two days of absolutely no symptoms. On “Day 4” she had a weird look in her eyes at dinner. Weird eyes are not on any “Symptoms of COVID-19” list. As a mom and a nurse, something told me to test again even though she looked fine in all other ways. The rapid test was positive. Insert a crapload of phone calls here.
That positive rapid test at 6:30 PM on a Thursday stopped forward transmission in multiple directions. My husband and I stayed home from work on Friday. My nephews (6 and 😎, whom we had seen the day prior to the positive test, stayed home from school. Further testing and phone calls ensued.
Fridays’ PCR tests revealed that both her siblings were positive and at the time asymptomatic. My husband and I had negative PCR tests the same day. Phew – the kids’ isolation clocks are the same and it’s unlikely my husband and I exposed anyone at work. Silver linings.
Saturday is when all hell broke loose. Three very symptomatic children in our house. High fevers, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, wheezing, headaches, body aches. One nephew also developed symptoms. My husband and I kept notes of who took fever medicine when and did our best to keep everyone hydrated and comfortable.
Symptomatic kids defy social distancing and mitigation measures. There was no containing their germy droplets. They were wet blankets who wanted to be snuggled by their parents. My husband and I were swimming in a fish tank of COVID-19 viruses and there was nothing we could do about it.
The start of symptoms on Sunday for my husband and I mirrored what a 30-something feels like after not sleeping for two nights under high levels of stress caring for three sick kids. In a moment of clarity, we both completed a rapid test and we both tested positive. I had received three doses of Pfizer (I work in a long-term care setting). He had two doses. Again – we were surrounded by massive amounts of virus for multiple days. I can’t say we were shocked to test positive. He lost his sense of taste and smell. I developed significant shortness of breath. We were both slower to recover than the kids.
The good news:
With diligent baseline mitigation measures, widespread vaccination of the adults in our life, quarantines, and rapid testing – we prevented hundreds of downstream infections at school, my nephews’ school, our workplaces, and within our extended family. The neighbor who we played with OUTSIDE on Thursday an hour before the index positive test never contracted COVID. My VACCINATED mom who had dinner with us the night before my daughter tested positive never contracted COVID. My amazing, patient, and vaccinated sister persevered through a LONG isolation and quarantine period, stopping all forward transmission outside of her household. While her kids and vaccinated husband all eventually tested positive, she never did. My kids’ symptoms abated in about 7 days and they appear back to normal. None of us required hospital care. I am so grateful for these blessings.
The bad news:
This caused so much disruption and one person has had a long course of illness. We know of 8 infections downstream from my daughter. 4 were in our household. 4 were in my sister’s household. There was at least 1 infection at school. My husband and I each missed 8 days of work. Our kids missed 6 school days. My sister’s kids missed 11 school days AND trick or treating for Halloween. 23 days after infection, I am still experiencing shortness of breath and tachycardia. My heart rate jumps up rapidly with little warning. Doing a load of laundry in the basement or running upstairs to grab my kids a pair of socks knocks me out. Sometimes, the symptoms come and go without warning while I am sitting still or sleeping. It’s not clear when the symptoms will go away and it is scary. I had no underlying conditions to increase my risk for severe or prolonged symptoms. Just bad luck.
So what can we learn here?
Young, sick kids increase the chance of household transmission, as seen in prior research. Sick kids need care. The number of household adults contracting COVID-19 from infected children is likely undercounted. My husband and I will not be captured in any data set. Vaccination of household adults gives a fighting chance at avoiding COVID-19 infection. If a breakthrough case occurs, vaccination greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization. Adults with kids – please get vaccinated.
Vaccination of children decreases the chance of COVID-19 transmission dramatically. Vaccinated kids are less likely to catch and spread COVID-19, helping to reduce household and community transmission and all the complications that come with it. As of now, COVID-19 is a preventable illness for anyone 5 or older. My kids will still get vaccinated even though they had COVID-19 infection. I think of this as SUPER protection. Please take your children to get vaccinated.
Last, we need to increase access to and use of rapid tests. In moments of uncertainty, rapid tests provide information to guide decisions – like sending kids to school and visiting high risk relatives. They are an additional layer of risk mitigation. Barriers to testing such as cost, availability, and fear need to be addressed. NOW!
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