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Opinion My dad has covid-19. All we can do is wait.

(Martin San Diego/For The Washington Post)
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My father has covid-19, and I can’t even take him banana bread.

The banana bread went all the way to Boston from the District. I made it last week after a grocery-ordering mishap left us with five bunches of bananas. Stress baking has been very helpful during these anxious weeks with my city locked down, our global economy in a shambles and my father in a cardiac rehab facility 450 miles from my house.

On March 31, my father called to say that the facility had its first covid-19 case. In another unit, but still. I tried not to panic as we debated the merits of his leaving immediately.

The American health-care system is set up to discharge people from hospitals as quickly as possible, then send a parade of health-care workers tramping through the patient’s home: visiting nurses, physical and occupational therapists, home health-care aides. All very sensible in normal times, but now? When he first went into rehab after a heart arrhythmia, and we started planning for him to come home, I asked both the rehab facility and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if anyone was rethinking this concept. I didn’t get much information out of either.

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After much discussion, my father, 78, decided it was safer to stay put until he was stronger. His rehab center had been locked down to outside visitors since March 11, which made it seem marginally safer than going home with outside help, although not, of course, safe. I got off the phone and made two loaves of banana bread. I put one in the freezer.

On April 3, the rehab center called and told us Dad could finally go home. We debated again: safer to go, or dip into savings to keep him in a locked-down environment? By then, unbeknownst to us, the question was moot; that night, my father developed a sore throat, which he duly reported to us the following morning.

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Well, it’s allergy season in Massachusetts, after all. He had no fever. Nonetheless.

“Dad, this is getting nerve-wracking for all of us,” I said. “Why don’t we come get you out?”

At 8 a.m. Monday, my sister and I started the eerie drive up Interstate 95. The roads were quiet. At the last minute, I had pulled that second loaf of banana bread from the freezer and tucked it in the cooler.

We checked in while we drove. He still had the sore throat, and we asked the rehab center to do a test, just to be sure. The National Guard was coming to do testing on Tuesday, it turned out. The only downside was that Dad would have to stay until they got the results, which usually takes 48 to 72 hours.

That gave us time to prepare his house for the homecoming, including reorganizing the kitchen to accommodate all the groceries we’d brought with us. My father chuckled and told me I should have just ordered from Peapod.

I explained that deliveries were running two weeks behind, at best, and even then it’s hard to schedule one. So much had changed while he was inside. “I’ll be really glad when you’re home,” I added.

A day later, he called my sister; I knew it was bad as soon as he asked her to put him on speakerphone.

He asked us to bring him some things. We assembled a care package — no-salt peanut butter, water crackers, ice cream for his throat. He doesn’t have a cough, he doesn’t have a fever, I told myself, then added vitamin D, because some studies show it helps support respiratory health. Of course I gave him the banana bread, which was already his banana bread, really.

We put on masks, covered our hair and drove to the rehab center, where a masked receptionist said they’d stopped accepting deliveries ages ago. I wanted to argue, but this seemed both pointless and risky.

When we spoke to the nursing director on Thursday, she told us that at least a quarter of their patients had tested positive; more than half of the positives were already in the hospital. And those were only the patients she knew about, because, amazingly, the National Guard hadn’t tested all of the patients and staff, only the people who were already showing symptoms. I don’t know who’s getting all those tests President Trump insists are readily available, but apparently the answer is not the most obvious, necessary places.

I’m sure that whoever recommended banning care packages knew it was unlikely anyone would contract covid-19 that way; the main vector is other people, in close quarters. Probably they told themselves they were being extra-cautious. Unfortunately the one precaution the facility didn’t, or couldn’t, take happened to be the one that mattered most: ubiquitous and repeated testing to catch cases before they spread. We should have been doing this in every nursing home in the country weeks ago.

On Friday morning, my father said, they started more widespread testing. But all that will do is tell us the extent of what we already know, which is that for at least two weeks, covid-19 has been spreading unrecognized through a giant building filled with vulnerable people.

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It’s a story that has now been repeated over and over, in state after state. We’re luckier than a lot of other families in that position; seven days in, Dad still only has mild symptoms. But like the rest of the families, however hopeful we may be, there’s nothing we can do now except wait — not even take Dad a stupid loaf of banana bread.

Read more:

David Von Drehle: I probably have a ‘mild to moderate’ case of covid-19. I don’t think I could survive worse.

Tim Searchinger, Anthony LaMantia and Gordon Douglas: The U.S. faces two disastrous scenarios. There’s a third option.

The Post’s View: With so few coronavirus tests, America has been flying blind into a storm

Jeremy Samuel Faust: For useful covid-19 testing, we need to think outside the box — and outside the ER

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