I haven’t left my house in three weeks, save for one afternoon when we had a family outing for COVID-19 tests.
Three weeks ago, suddenly, my entire family felt lousy. Everyone had a low-grade fever (just above 37C, only one of us broke 38C) and we all just felt gross and low in energy. A few days before that my husband had a fever during the night, again, not high at all, but enough to disrupt his sleep and leave him exhausted. A few days before, my eldest stayed home from school with a stomach ache. We assumed he drank too much tap water at school on the first couple of really hot days and that was the cause of his stomach pains.
A phone call appointment with one of our doctors confirmed that we needed to be tested for the coronavirus. Without too much run-around we figured out where to go, got tested, and hunkered down until we got the test results.
Two days later, we learned that three of the five of us were positive. I had the virus, my husband had it, and my eldest son who is 15. That sparked a full day of phone calls and WhatsApp messages to be responsible parents and community members. We notified our son’s school and sent the school into a tizzy of a rapid closure and sending the kids home. My son very graciously allowed himself to be named to help the kids know who had to quarantine. I spent the entire day and the following one answering calls from the school and concerned friends and updating our family back in the US. It was exhausting and necessary. The school activated contact tracing on my son. My husband and I have not yet been contact traced.
The three of us with positive results were resting and doing our best to recover. Our symptoms looked like:
Discomfort when breathing deeply
Sore throat — especially at nighttime when we were sleeping
Stomach pains and diarrhea for more than a week
We have been monitoring our oxygenation levels and temperatures. Every few days we have spoken with a doctor or a nurse to update them on how we were doing. Given how light our symptoms were, and we hoped they would stay that way, we were deemed “hospitalized at home” and able to take care of ourselves. Our worst days have been spent resting, hydrating, and taking Tylenol to address our headaches.
Our fevers, only once or twice out of dozens of checks, stayed below 38C. The difficulty breathing we had was more along the lines of an inconvenience or a strain in our chests, with no change in our oxygen saturation levels. Given the lack of the most common symptoms, we could have easily missed the signs that we had the coronavirus.
A few days later a hazmat-suited Magen David Adom paramedic arrived at our house to retest my two children who had previously tested negative. Again, negative results came back for my 8 year old and my 13 year old. The second negative result confirmed that the first was not a false negative.
We have no clue where we got infected or why we have it so mildly, with two family members not infected at all. There are some clues that may be informative. First of all, a recent report in Science Translational Medicine, as reported recently in the New York Times, identifies that perhaps children have a more general and rapid response to viruses as opposed to older members of the population who have immune systems that have been trained to respond to numerous viruses, but don’t recognize this new one. That delay in response time may be the difference that seems to look like kids don’t get this virus. Given how my younger children felt when we were all at the beginning of this journey, I strongly suspect that they both had the virus and fought it off quickly and definitively, such that their tests came back negative.
We have been vigilant mask wears — all of my children wear them as required (third graders don’t have to wear them in the classroom). We were the poster family for responsible mask wearing, handwashing, and social distancing. And that may well have helped us avoid a more serious case of this disease. Wearing a mask, even the handmade fabric ones we have, prevents a certain amount of the virus from infecting a person. The smaller the amount of the virus that reaches you, the weaker the infection. That’s the theory right now and the understanding of the science.
Please wear a mask ALL THE TIME you are not in your home, from the minute you walk out your front door! Get reusable masks — four or five per family member. It’s a great way to support a local business, have something with a bit of style, and reduce the waste of single-use masks. Fabric masks can be washed easily by hand and are shown to be as effective as the disposable masks (although not as effective as N95, but we need to leave those to the medical professionals who really need them).
Our contact tracing efforts are beyond overwhelmed, therefore, it is on each and every one of us to be responsible and communicative and work to break the chain of infection. There is no stigma in having this illness. A great many of us have had it or will have it, and quite a few won’t even know that’s what they had. And yet some will get it and be in the hospital or not even survive. It’s not nice to tell your friends or neighbors they have to go into quarantine. It would be devastating to send others to the hospital or worse.
Having had this virus in a very mild way, I don’t wish this on anyone. Yet I know many more around the world and here in Israel will be infected. This virus isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Our government has shown us that they are not up to the task of protecting public health at the moment. We have to take full, personal responsibility to protect ourselves and those in our communities.