ORn the Thursday night before semester, our eight-year-old complained of chest pain and felt warm to the touch, even though our digital thermometer said it was normal. COVID-19? It seemed highly unlikely: In Bristol, where we live, fewer than two in 10,000 people were infected, below the national average and well below where we were just a few months ago. It’s probably a cold, I thought.
The next morning, he appeared by our bedside at 7am, complaining that his eyes hurt. “Maybe we should keep you out of school,” I said. But he wanted to go and had already put on his school sweater and karate pants; They were allowed to use whatever they wanted as part of their end-of-year “class treatment”. “Why don’t you have some breakfast and we’ll see?” I suggested.
He had breakfast and it seemed fine, but we were still undecided about shipping it. Then I remembered the rapid lateral flow (LFT) tests in the kitchen drawer.
I opened a test and started cleaning it, while our 10-year-old daughter was on her way to school alone. Five minutes later, we were staring at the second red line on the test cartridge in disbelief: positive.
My husband managed to get our daughter back before she got to school. I was confused: I had no symptoms. But she was also positive. We notify the school; opted for confirmatory PCR tests; He Googled “How Common is False Positive Lateral Flow Test?” And found that the chances of a positive result being incorrect are roughly one in a thousand. The odds of two false positives in the same house on the same day were extremely small. Still, we remained hopeful.
At around 4pm, two emails arrived from the school, informing us that an unnamed boy had tested positive in each of our children’s classes. Our children.
The emails warned us that if their PCR tests were positive, all children in the two affected classes would have to self-isolate for ten days.
That’s when the class’s WhatsApp chat started.
Throughout the pandemic, our school has been one of the lucky ones, with very few cases or class closings. People were optimistic: they were packing their bags to go on vacation; relatives came to their homes for meetings that must have been long overdue. Things finally returned to normal.
Those emails from school, and the second batch on Saturday morning, after the PCR tests came back positive (my husband and I tested negative), they screwed all of that up.
“Ping” was my phone. “Ping, ping.”
WhatsApp is not a healthy place to hang around when, indeed, it has been canceled in the medium term for 60 families. I cringed when disappointment washed over me.
We called the parents of the children most likely to have been infected by our children: one was packing up his family’s tent and returning home from a group camping trip to isolate himself.
We kept all of this quiet for the children. Still, when I told our daughter that her PCR test had come back positive, the first thing she said was, “Everyone is going to blame us for ruining her midterm.”
We explained that we had done the right thing. If we had not raised the alert, other potentially infected people could have passed Covid to their friends and family. She was still sad; we all were.
I was in the middle of my second call to the NHS test and trace when I received a text message from a friend asking if I was okay. She had heard that our children were the ones with Covid.
I called her directly: “How did you know?” I asked. Apparently the parents of a separate WhatsApp group from the Cubs solved it by comparing notes on which siblings were in which classes and who had been absent from school the day before.
Never underestimate a squad of anxious parents. I was surprised, although I didn’t blame them. I’m sure he would have been doing the same if our roles had been reversed.
Around the same time, another message appeared in the WhatsApp class: “I’m not sure who the family is with the positive tests, but, if you are here, you should know that we are thinking about the children and I hope you do not have a very bad time “.
It was followed by several more messages like this one. I burst into tears.
I am not writing this to try to make anyone feel bad. Those same WhatsApp groups and their inhabitants have been a source of comfort, camaraderie, and inspiration for the past week. We’re getting through this strange semester together – with virtual bakes, FaceTime playdates, and neatly arranged Tupperware cabinets. Friends are shopping for us and saying “Hello” from across the front yard. Everything is very 2020.
I am writing this because of what happened next and because I am concerned that something similar is happening now in other schools across the country. Because I’m concerned that all this talk about “freedom day” and vacations abroad is making us complacent about Covid-19.
Once the parents at the school found out that our children had tested positive, they began testing their own children. Others became infected, especially in our son’s class, but also in other classes and age groups. Most, to my knowledge, were asymptomatic when tested.
So far, 12 students and one staff member have tested positive. In a way, we’re lucky that the mid-term came when it did – it’s acting as a firewall. Other Bristol schools and early childhood settings are also experiencing outbreaks; 16 of them since Wednesday. At least some of these are being driven by the most transmissible Delta variant first detected in India, the council said.
Until now, elementary-age children were supposed to play only a minor role in driving community transmission of Covid-19, because they are less infectious. The situation at our children’s school seems to contradict this.
Alternatively, many other Covid cases in the community go unnoticed, and our children are the canaries in the coal mine. Neither scenario is good, particularly considering new data from Public Health England (PHE) suggesting that the Delta variant may be associated with a 2.61 times higher risk of hospitalization compared to the first detected Alpha variant time in Kent.
According to PHE data released Thursday, the number of Delta variant infections in schools or other educational settings rose rapidly between April 26 and May 30, with 97 confirmed outbreaks of Covid in elementary and secondary schools that have had at least one variant case linked to them. during this period, about one in every 250 schools.
“It is clear that schools are a major source of transmission and that outbreaks in primary and secondary schools have increased a lot, week after week,” said Professor Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operations research unit at University College London.
My husband and I are also infected. After the discovery of Covid in the house, we opened our windows wide, insisted on washing our hands regularly, and tried to avoid getting too close to our children. But they are still small, and in this horrible situation they needed hugs.
We put hope in vaccines. We had both received at least one Covid-19 puncture: I had received my first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine almost three weeks before all of this; my husband had received his second blow last week. We knew we weren’t fully protected, especially against the newer variants, but we hoped they would keep us from getting sick.
Monday night I was too tired to get out of bed. On Tuesday morning I woke up drenched in sweat, with a terrible headache. My LFT was positive. Later that day, a slew of front pages gleefully announced that the government had recorded zero deaths from Covid for the first time since the pandemic began.
Since then, I have had an intermittent fever, headache, fatigue, and have now partially lost my sense of smell. My husband currently has no symptoms.
The other day, a friend asked me if I knew who Patient Zero was. I would be lying if I said that I had not also considered how Covid took hold in our school. But in a pandemic that has been going on for almost a year and a half, the reality is that there is no Patient Zero. The virus is out there, passing from person to person, even if it seems like it isn’t. Even if we pretend it’s about to end.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism