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My Kids Got Covid at Their Mask-Optional School. Now We’re Quarantining During the High Holidays.

girl looking out the window

Justin Paget/Getty Images

Sixteen school days. That’s how long it took for my mask-wearing 10-year-old daughter to contract Covid-19 at her mask-optional elementary school here in Texas.

Sixteen days. 

I could have predicted it. In fact … I did, right here at Kveller a few weeks ago, where I wrote about my fears of sending my kids back to school, knowing there would be little to no mitigation measures in place.

Since the pandemic began, my family has been listening intently as doctors and epidemiologists made recommendations for public health, and we pivoted as the guidance shifted. For example, instead of being annoyed that vaccinated people like us were being asked to wear masks again as the delta variant raged, my husband and I simply masked up. We explained to our kids that this is how science works and that, as new data comes in, things would continue to change.

But our school system here in Texas got the same memo from all the same experts… and refused to recognize the imminent danger of the incredibly contagious delta variant; not caring that no elementary school students are currently eligible for vaccination. Nope, the district wanted to open up, business as usual and — despite thousands of us in pro-mask Facebook groups pleading for mitigation measures in the days and weeks leading up to the start of school on August 11 — downright refused to fight our governor’s executive order that bans schools from mandating masks.

Instead, they have stubbornly stuck to this intransigent position, even while our cases skyrocket, and even while other districts throughout the state bucked the EO and required masks anyway. These districts knew it was the right thing to do, no matter how many lawsuits they’d see as a result. But not ours.

It wasn’t hard for me to imagine just how bad things would get here, opening schools with limited mitigation measures and no quarantining rules if kids or teachers lived with a Covid-positive patient. (Thankfully that changed as of August 26; now a student would need to stay home in that situation).

Less than four weeks in, everything has unfolded as I predicted, and then some. Our district has had over 1,300 cases since school opened — and there’s no way of knowing how many other kids are quarantining at home. And now, my children are two of those 1,300 cases — because six days after my daughter tested positive, so did my 7-year-old son.

So instead of celebrating the Jewish New Year at synagogue, as we were hoping to do, we were quarantined at home.

Instead of inviting our friends over for our fun apples and honey tradition, we celebrated just the four of us at home — each of us wearing a mask and staying six feet away from each other.

Instead of making my great-grandmother’s brisket, we settled for take-out and will do our traditional meal when we can all sit together at the table again as a family. Frankly, my heart just wasn’t into it this year.

I know these Days of Awe are our time to ask forgiveness from others we have wronged or hurt throughout the year … and of course I am doing that, as I do every year. But this year, I am  angry, and I’m finding it really hard to find forgiveness in my heart for those who clearly haven’t asked for it, but who are taking up real estate in my brain nonetheless. These are people whom I wish I could forgive so I could move into 5782 with less rage in my heart.

I am angry at my community for its low vaccination rate and the refusal of so many to mask up as they are out and about — unwilling to do anything to help slow the spread while our ICUs are filled to the max here in north Texas. I am angry at our schools for getting rid of so many of the mitigation measures that worked to keep them safe all last year — like social distancing in the classroom, desk shields, quarantine rules and more. I am angry at our school district for not requiring teachers and students to wear masks, even kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet.

But I am angry most of all at the politicians in this state who have used our kids as political pawns, refusing to put the public health measures in place that this pandemic demands. And there are consequences to their inaction: My children are now two of the 50,000 kids in Texas who have tested positive since school began. (Of course, it goes without saying that if we lived in a state that values actual life as much as it values the life of an embryo, I wouldn’t be writing this essay. But, alas, here we are).

The bottom line is that we tried so hard to keep our kids safe throughout the past 18 months, and it’s maddening to me that all it took was 16 days of being back at a mask-optional school to get a positive diagnosis.

For us, it all began September 1; my daughter wasn’t feeling well when she came home from soccer practice. We thought perhaps it was heat exhaustion, but when we took her temperature, she wasn’t just warm or clammy; she had a fever of 101.4. My mind immediately went back to when she was a baby and had a febrile seizure — my most terrifying moment as a parent. But I didn’t have time to think much about that, because suddenly she began vomiting from her bed.

After cleaning up the chaos and getting her to sleep, we called our pediatrician who said it sounded like a stomach bug but could be Covid, since the delta variant has a myriad of symptoms. We kept her home from school the next morning and did a PCR test at a drive-through facility. Sure enough, when the results came back the following day, she was positive.

Since then, her symptoms have shifted from fever and vomiting to congestion and a cough. She’s slowly regaining her energy and appetite. We are hoping this will be it for her and that she’ll be in the “mild case” Covid camp. But we just don’t know.

And though we tried our best to keep our kids apart — masking them, keeping them in their rooms as much as possible, not letting them share a bathroom — our 7-year old son is positive, too. What’s scariest is that we don’t know the long-term effects on kids who contract Covid-19. That’s what keeps me up at night: the unknowns.

So while my babies recover during these Days of Awe — with their quarantine fittingly ending on Yom Kippur — I will sit with my anger. I hope to channel it into good by continuing to fight for my children’s safety and well-being.

Last year may have ended on a bad note for my family, but as an eternal optimist, I’d like 5782 to start on a high note. I may never find forgiveness in my heart for those who I feel are dragging this pandemic out longer than necessary and have hurt so many along the way — but I can’t let myself carry that angst into the new year, either. Instead, I’ll pray for better days ahead, for health and happiness, and for my entire family to be written into the Book of Life once again.

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