After six months of PE with Joe, homeschooling, and endless snacks, a nation of parents gleefully waved off their children back into the classrooms in September.
Facebook was full of first day back photos with a difference, and parents thanked teachers with a brand new appreciation and respect. Admittedly there was a mixture of emotions for the majority of us, with relief that we no longer have to be chef, teacher, mother/father, bread winner and everything in between. For some of us, anxiety over whether sending them back amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic was the right thing to do. But with the government insisting schools are safe, and beating parents with a school fines stick, back they went, hands sanitised and temperatures checked as they walked through the threshold.
The inevitable bugs returned
Fast forward five days later, and my kids have the inevitable bugs that they were bound to catch. Six months of isolation, and no exposure to anybody outside of our household meant a glorious half year of no colds, coughs, vomiting, head-lice, or any other disgusting germs that children pick up while they are at school.
However, it took all of two days for my five-year-old to catch a cold, and another two for her to pass it to my one-year-old, who developed a fever. Given he’s not been exposed to germs for the majority of his life because of lockdown, it’s no wonder it developed in to a 38 degree fever. Last night as I held a fussy baby and took his temperature, reality hit me. We are back to lockdown.
Back to ‘lockdown’
The current guidelines state if anybody in your household displays a fever, or a cough, or loss of taste or smell, the entire family need to isolate for 10 days unless you can get a negative Covid-19 test. If further members display symptoms, it’s 14 days from when they got ill.
I broke the news to my girls, that they may not be able to go back to school for two weeks unless we can prove that none of us have the virus. My eight year old had a tantrum and was devastated. She thoroughly enjoyed her six month break, but after returning to school she realised how much she missed her friends and all of the fun activities in the classroom. Each afternoon I have been regaled with tales of who she played with, what she’s learnt, and the intricacies of the hand washing and toilet peg routine. The thought of not being able to go back to school sent her in a bit of a tailspin, and she won’t be alone.
The rules are of course understandable. We need to keep our children and the wider community safe. Of course it’s entirely sensible to be isolating when displaying any symptoms.
Getting a test isn’t easy to do
The issue is the difficulty in getting a test. The first thing that I did was go onto the government website and enter all of my details, all of my sons details, and all of my daughters details. I then entered my postcode and hit find me a test centre. The page took ages to load, and when it finally did it told me there were no test centres available and no home tests available.
After months of hitting refresh on supermarket websites, I decided to employ the same strategies and to wait until later and try again. On my second attempt, after re-entering all of our details for a second time, it gave me four test centres to choose from. Great!
175 miles to the nearest test centre
Unfortunately, the options were far from ideal. I am in Kent and the test centres it gave me to choose from were as far afield as Manchester. I resorted to Facebook, asking friends and family local to me if anybody knew of a test centre I could go to. I had plenty of helpful replies giving me locations of test centres near by.
But, with no clear indication of whether you need to book via the rubbish government website, or whether you can just turn up without a booking, I’m loathed to attempt the trip with poorly children only to be potentially turned away.
After an entire evening hitting refresh to no avail, I gave up at midnight and decided to call my GP the next morning. Surely they would have the most up-to-date advice?
The search began
The receptionist gave me the phone number of a local council Covid-19 support line. I gave it a ring. After being on hold for 15 minutes, I was told by a very disgruntled call-centre operator that she didn’t know who had given me this number, but they have nothing to do with Covid-19 (despite the recorded message saying that this was the Covid-19 support line). I did my duty and called back the GP surgery advising them of the operator’s response and asked if they had any further advice. She suggested I Google drive through test centres, so I did that.
I ended up back on the shit government website which wouldn’t load.
Are we facing repeated isolation over the next few months?
Given that children in September catch every bug going in a normal school year, my suspicion is that there’s going to be a lot of families isolating over the next four to five months. With a lack of clear information from local councils and government as to where the local test centres are and availability for appointments, children are likely to be out of school more than they may be in, as we have to isolate for 10 days in the absence of a negative Covid-19 test.
Even more concerning is the potential for a class of 30 children, plus staff, not isolating despite having been in contact with a Covid-19 infected classmate. With the inability to get a test, although a child may be forced to isolate, their class won’t. That’s 30+ families out in the public, mixing at the school gates (yup zero social distancing going on outside schools despite the ongoing pandemic) and possibly infecting further people.
PJs until lunchtime, roll on summer
So for today, it’s PJ‘s until lunchtime, demands for a varied lunch menu, and Lego all over the floor. My phone battery will be drained by lunchtime from hitting refresh on the bloody government website page. Whether the unexpected school holiday lasts two days or two weeks entirely depends on the availability of getting a slot at a test centre. As there’ll be hundreds of other parents now in the same predicament as me it’s unlikely, as we all try to get a test so children can return to school too.
Roll on summer…