Personally Responsible

My five year old came home sick on the sixth day of school. He had forgotten his allergy meds that morning so at first we all thought his congestion was the result of a missed dose, and he asked for his Zyrtec as soon as we walked in the door. From there he got worse.

A friend told me we could buy an at-home COVID-19 test at the pharmacy so I ran out to get one to put my mind at ease. What I found was alarming. I had to go to three pharmacies to find the tests as two were sold out. Each place had a jam-packed parking lot and lines of coughing people snaked around the stores. The test was negative, but I was also unsure I’d stuck the swab far enough up his nose, and the instructions say a positive test is clear, but a negative test means we need to retest in a day, especially if the patient is showing symptoms.

I alerted his teacher and his brother’s teacher and loaded him up with a decongestant before bed in order to reassess the next morning. I found him curled on the floor shivering and kissed his forehead to determine if he had a fever, which he did (confirmed by a thermometer because *science* but I am rarely wrong). The school has an online form to submit if your kid is sick. They ask some questions, including whether they ride the bus or do any extracurriculars, and the survey spits out an answer, which in our case was a big red X and the words STAY HOME UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

My boys share a room and all three of my kids are constantly in close contact so I knew if we had one positive COVID case we’d have three without a doubt, so I kept them all home. The nurse called after school hours to talk about next steps and agreed that my son couldn’t return to school until he had a reliable negative test, so I took him for a PCR. The wait at urgent care for that test was four hours. Appointments all over town were booked for days. By the time we went to bed last night El Paso had announced they would reopen a mass testing site to accommodate all the new spread in the city.

When I spoke to the nurse about keeping my older son home as a precaution, she told me that she would not tell me I couldn’t send him to school, per the new guidance from the state. It’s national news that the governor of Texas has made it illegal to install mask mandates in schools, but that order also says you don’t have to quarantine even if you have come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. It also says schools don’t have to notify us if there is a case in the classroom, and that they don’t have to complete contact tracing. It sounds like our school will make an effort to trace based on the questions we were asked, but we now also know it’s possible we’d never find out if a kid in the class tested positive, or if kids in the school have COVID-19 positive siblings at home. AND, if we’re all waiting on PCRs to confirm, we are getting the news of a positive case a week after the sick kid was present.

This incredibly aggressive and contagious strain of COVID-19 has spread at lighting speed across the world, but sure, send your kid’s roommate to school even if your kid might have been infected with the Delta variant. What could go wrong, right?

It is entirely possible my kid doesn’t have COVID-19, but I agree with the precautions our school is taking by saying he cannot return until he tests negative. That’s GREAT. You don’t want a bunch of parents sending their kids to school insisting it’s just allergies when it could be COVID. Get that test, y’all. The problem is that appointments are scarce and the results take 3 to 5 days, so in the second week of school my kids are all home for the rest of the week, having only gone in on Monday. There is no virtual option, per the governor’s orders, and no hybrid option either, so my kids are just straight up missing school. Today we have three runny noses because, as I suspected, what infected one infected all three, so they may not feel up to much work, but if they did wouldn’t it make sense to have some sort of virtual option so these kids can keep up with their classes?

Since it’s only the second week of school, their teachers assured me they aren’t missing much, but IT’S ONLY THE SECOND WEEK OF SCHOOL and my kids are missing a minimum of 4 days, more if that test comes back positive. I don’t begrudge them the precautions, please add more precautions as you think of them! But maybe this, and the overbooked testing centers all over the city, are signs we aren’t doing this right. The governor says we should all just take personal responsibility for ourselves, but I’ve got news for you: the general public doesn’t always make the right choices. My husband and I are vaccinated, but now we know immune deficient folks still need constant masking and social distancing and potentially boosters, but we also need to send our kids to school where the majority of people are NOT wearing masks.

Masks are effective when everyone wears them. They protect me from your germs and protect you from mine. I send my kids to school with five masks in case they drop one during lunch or drool into it during PE, or whatever other gross things they do their masks. The teachers send home photos of their classrooms every day, and my kids are always masked, but most of their peers are not. But also, they are all sitting down to lunch together and removing their masks to eat. My daughter’s daycare staff all wear masks, but from the photos sent home it looks like she is the only kid in her class in a mask. None of my kids complain about their masks, for the record.

So, in terms of personal responsibility, we are maxed out. I can’t get a booster yet, but I never go anywhere without a mask, and neither does my husband. The largest crowds I’ve been around since the Delta variant touched down in our area were the packed pharmacies two nights ago. In case we do have COVID cases in our house, we are back to full lockdown and ordering groceries to limit contact. My seven, five, and three year old children have shouldered more personal responsibility than many adults in the past year and a half, but I don’t know what else to do to protect them. If you’re the only kid in a mask around twenty-two other mouth-breathers, it’s a losing game.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it isn’t as much of a burden for me to keep these kids home and isolate them after possible exposures or mysterious symptoms, but I totally understand it’s not that easy for a lot of people. But if those parents were vaccinated, masked, and sent their kids to school masked, it would lower everyone’s chances of being exposed in the first place. What am I supposed to do when I have taken on the most personal responsibility possible besides enrolling in homeschool independent from our local school, since our local school cannot offer it themselves, and most other people are taking very little personal responsibility?

When your lack of personal responsibility puts my whole family at risk, we make laws. We know the public would not elect to slow down in a school zone without the proper signage and threat of fines, so we made that a rule to protect kids. It seems like it should be obvious to avoid speeding where children are present, but apparently it isn’t, so we make sure people follow those rules. As much as I’d like to think most people care about their neighbors and would always choose to do the right thing, we know for a fact they don’t a lot of the time. Variants breed in unvaccinated bodies, and my kids aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet, so you need to get that shot and wear your damn mask. If my kids who are doing their damnedest to stay safe have all gotten a cold or flu or strep or whatever after one week in school wearing masks, they have no hope of avoiding COVID. And I happen to know who is personally responsible for that.

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