What happens when both parents of young children test positive?
When I got the call, my family wasn’t home. When they walked in the door, my children, ages 7 and 8, rushed toward me. I had to tell them to back away, while informing them that this scary thing upending the entire planet was now inside our house. Inside their mom.
My daughter cried and asked if I would get better. I couldn’t hug her. After the Santa Clara (Calif.) County health department called to tell me to stay away from everyone, including my children, my son wrote an account of it for our home newspaper. “Anne Kornblut has the coronavirus but do not worry it is not the bad kind,” he wrote on the front page. “Please note that you should not be within ten feet of Anne."
I asked the health department what we should do if my husband received the same diagnosis, which he eventually did. “We haven’t had that scenario yet,” the public health nurse said. It was early days in this pandemic.
That scenario arrived for us, as it now has for so many. We are among the lucky. We have not been hospitalized, nor are we gravely ill. Over the weeks of tests and quarantine, we’ve been showered with love from friends and still received paychecks. Our kids seem to be fine. And they are both with us.
But the double diagnosis has hit us in unexpected ways.
The medical advice has been murky. Should we test our two kids? No, the doctors said. You should assume your kids have it, or already did. Does that mean we can all hold each other, and be together in the same room? No, the doctors said. You don’t want to give your family more virus — more “viral load,” as they put it — and make them sicker. And absolutely no one can come or go from the house. Can I take off the mask and gloves? Again, no.
I gave up on the mask anyway — slowly at first, then increasingly as it became clear that the kids needed normalcy more than protection. Jon and I kept our distance from each other and from them. But we gave occasional quick hugs. How do you tell kids of that age that everything will be fine, and their parents won’t both die, without some little touch?
We set the bar at surviving. We’ve taken turns with the kids. We’ve begged them to put themselves to bed. We try not to seem sick, even though we take one step forward, another back. I went from no fever to a low fever. An odd headache keeps recurring, one that feels like a kind of brain fog. I lost my sense of smell; Jon did not. He remains fatigued, but his fever is gone. We both need naps.
And yet. My emotional balance scale — with fear and sadness on one side, countered by gratitude on the other — is tipping heavily in the direction of gratitude.
The outpouring from our family, friends, neighbors and total strangers has made us feel loved like no other time since moving to California almost six years ago. Several people have dropped off groceries, including impossible-to-find sanitizing wipes. One made homemade beef stew; another managed to arrange a giant matzoh ball soup delivery. A group of friends gave us a gift certificate to a local toy store that delivers. Someone anonymously sent us socks (please tell me if it was you). Someone else sent books.
And yet. The disparity between our situation and what is happening outside our walls is unthinkable. Why am I improving every day, while a 36-year-old school principal in Brooklyn died? The arbitrariness of who’s getting help and who isn’t, compounded by the great imbalance between who can eat this week and who won’t, is overwhelming.
Every night, I have dreams about infecting other people. I’m in a movie theater, sharing popcorn with someone, when I suddenly remember I have the coronavirus and tell the other person. Or I’m in a meeting, borrowing someone’s pen, when I tell them I’m sick. Night after night.
Last Wednesday, I left the house for the first time in 13 days and took a walk. It’ll be at least another week and a half, and probably longer, before we’re out of quarantine, but doctors said we can go outdoors if we stay far from others. I kept 40 feet away from the nearest pedestrian. Even then, I worried about the wind carrying my germs. By the time I returned home, I had to sleep.