It’s Thursday morning. I should be on my way to work, ready, with a smile in my eyes, to greet my exuberant crew of preschoolers in the ECSE program where I teach in the Boise School District.
In August, I wrote in my journal, ”A new year. A new beginning. A fresh start.” I had hope that we were through the worst of this pandemic which first rocked our worlds in March of 2020. Sure, we faced challenges ahead. But, we had learned so much over the past year. We were prepared. My district opted to require masks while indoors or in large crowds. We were provided ample jugs of hand sanitizer. And, I was vaccinated! My husband, teenage daughter, and my senior aged parents were, too!
For a time, it seemed there was light at the end of the tunnel. At school, students followed the carefully plotted health and safety guidelines. Even my little preschoolers, in spite of a range of developmental delays, donned their masks and sang their abc’s when they washed their hands. The numbers of positive COVID cases across the district were a blip on the radar. I breathed a sigh of relief when I returned home that maybe, just maybe, my household could remain a safe place for my 11-year old son, who had his fingers and toes crossed that the vaccine would soon be approved for him, as well. Another layer of protection. His school also requires masks while indoors.
By mid-September, it became clear that despite all we were doing in our particular school district and at my childrens’ school, and in our home, we were not in the clear. Numbers in our community and statewide were skyrocketing.
Today, our hospital systems are overwhelmed. ICU admittance and COVID related deaths reflect younger and younger populations. The state recently implemented “Crisis Standards of Care,” with serious implications for everyone seeking even healthcare in our state.
At school, I tried to fight my fear, but one evening as I tried to sleep, a sinking feeling in my heart, as a parent and as a daughter, told me we are beyond crisis. I knew in spite of all the precautions we were taking at work, and in my little family, the spread of cases in our community was bound to touch us all. Call it intuition, or call it what it was, the reality of the situation. I voiced my fear to my husband the next day, “I now believe it’s not a matter of if someone in our family will get COVID, but a matter of when.”
Listening to the radio that afternoon, a nurse from the critical care unit in a local hospital gave words to the conflict I was feeling. She stated, “I feel like I live in alternate realities. At work, in the hospital, this is taken very seriously. When I leave work, it is as though life goes on as normal. I mean people are going to football games, right? And large family gatherings.”
At school, I am a broken record, “Mask on,” I remind my students. “Be sure to wash your hands.” But then, they go home and into the world. Football games, Family gatherings. Playdates and sleepovers, right? An alternate reality.
Last Friday, I felt tired. A tickle in my throat. It’s just a cold, I reasoned. Rest up and push fluids, and I’ll be back to work on Monday, I postured. But, by Sunday evening, I knew in my gut, I needed to get tested for COVID. It was difficult to admit that I might be a breakthrough case. Our family had done EVERYTHING RIGHT! Late Monday afternoon, my hands trembling. Heart racing. The results were in. I surfed through the patient portal online to find in red letters, “Positive.”
My husband had barely walked through the door having picked the kids up from school, only to rush them out again to get tested at the urgent care.
Our family is lucky. When we found out our 11 yr. old also tested positive, we sprang into action. He is able to mostly isolate. Older sister and dad, both vaccinated, tested negative. Our days in quarantine are spent cleaning, washing and re-washing bedding, and staring at each other over our mask covered faces. We wonder how? Who? When? But quickly realize we can only focus on now.
I will make a full recovery. Grateful for the vaccine, which I believe cut my illness short. My son is still congested. He is fatigued and has sores on his tongue. Sometimes he will communicate feelings of sadness and fear. I pray to God for answers to his questions, as I don’t always know how to reply.
My teenage daughter is trying to appear strong, as teenagers do. She’s checking online for any schoolwork she can do from home. Facetiming her friends. I know she is scared and maybe even angry. The sacrifices we asked her to make over the year, and COVID still got through our walls?
Aside from playing catch up from last year, academically, our kids are coping with real stress. They watch, as our community continues along the path of an alternate reality, ignoring the calls of healthcare workers and teachers to take it seriously, outside the walls of school and the hospital. My daughter shakes her head as she wanders through her favorite stores at the mall, noticing how few are even wearing masks.
Reality check. This pandemic is surging forward. Our healthcare systems are beyond crisis. Our neighbors, many of whom remain unvaccinated (nearly 50% at last report) are occupying hospital beds at an alarming rate. More people are dying. And, they are younger than any previous surge.
Idaho needs to stop existing in alternate realities. COVID is not a game we can take for chance. If we do not respond to the alarms being sounded by those essential workers in our community (healthcare workers, educators, city leaders), we will lose this battle. Rise to the challenge, Idaho. Make the right move. Mask up. Avoid large gatherings, and please get vaccinated! Our children are watching.