HELENA, Mont. — My unvaccinated 7-year-old son began hacking and sneezing in late September as the hospitals in our home state of Montana started buckling under the latest COVID surge. I took him to get tested when his symptoms wouldn’t go away.
The cotton swab went up his nostrils and Thomas bucked out of my lap with a mighty snort, nearly ripping the 6-inch swab from the pediatrician assistant’s fingers. It came out bent, but the sample was usable, and as she put it away, I asked a question to which I already knew the answer.
“So we’re in quarantine?” She nodded. It would take about 72 hours to get the results, she said.
The next day, 4-year-old twins Anna and Karen started coughing and sneezing like their brother. They were already under orders to stay home after being exposed to a COVID-positive classmate, but they, too, were slapped with a new quarantine while we waited for the test results.
We had already experienced two COVID quarantines and summer camp closures in August. In September, our family accomplished a new feat in our pandemic journey: The twins entered a quarantine within a quarantine, running simultaneously to their brother’s quarantine.
For the parents of children too young to get vaccinated, the news that Pfizer and BioNTech deemed their vaccine safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11 is a light at the end of a seemingly never-ending quarantine tunnel. Remember those lockdowns that defined spring 2020 for everyone? We parents are still living them, in increments lasting up to 10 days. When we’re not in quarantine, we’re bracing for the next one.
My wife, Beagan, and I now flinch every time we see a school number on our phones’ caller ID. Are they closing again? Will our bosses be understanding this time? Can we find part-time care at the last minute? Are we even allowed to bring in that outside help if we’re in quarantine?
But the record hospitalizations and spike in COVID deaths put the problems of our confined — yet healthy — family in perspective. The same day my son was tested, Montana was among the top 5 states for new case rates and the governor sent National Guard troops to help hospitals bursting with COVID patients. The 1,326 new COVID cases reported by the state included 118 kids under age 10.
Our pediatrician’s office is part of the St. Peter’s Health system, which was implementing crisis standards of care to ration medical services. Several hundred feet from us at the doctor’s office, all eight intensive care beds in the main wing of the hospital were filled, six by COVID patients.
Here we were, just three weeks into the school year, and we were drained. Beagan and I spent much of August and September trying to manage the kids and our jobs. How bad might it get when the cold weather forced us all back indoors?