Courtesy Caitlin Hannon
I can’t remember when my husband and I started testing regularly for COVID-19, but it was a long time ago. His company offers weekly testing that is sent to our house — he swabs, returns and gets results in a day or so. The Mountain View–Los Altos and Los Altos School districts started offering monthly testing at the beginning of last school year, and I joined in from the beginning. Free, accessible testing? Even though we have both been fully vaccinated for months, we figured: Why not?
So after a year or so of regular testing, I was shocked to get a result I’d never seen before: “POSITIVE.” I was standing at my desk at the time, with my fourth period class in front of me, and I assumed I’d hit the wrong button. Surely I’d hit the wrong button. But there it was again, and it was as if someone punched me in the stomach: “POSITIVE.”
The problem with working so hard to avoid something is that when it happens it feels like the end of the world. I felt like a failure and I was immediately filled with shame. How could I have done this? What did I do wrong? And most importantly, who have I seen today? It was that last question that hit me hardest. I thought of my parents, who are at greater risk because they are over 65, and my children, who are too young to be vaccinated. I thought of Ms. Abel and Ms. O’Hayer, who I share a classroom with, and of all the teachers I’d had lunch with that day. I thought of Ms. Aguirre, who was sitting right next to me in a department meeting that morning. I looked out at a classroom of students, and I suddenly felt I was endangering them. I didn’t know what to do, so I just walked out of the room.
As I write this, my family and I are quarantining. In some ways it feels like March 2020 again, but in other ways, this is a lot easier. We know this will end, for one, and we are pretty used to this by now. My students have shifted to remote learning pretty seamlessly. My own children understand social distancing restrictions, so they took it pretty well when we pronounced that we were going to have a two-week-long house party. We’re making lots of popcorn and pulling all our games off the shelves. We’re making the best of it, and we’re doing just fine.
Before last week, I had not spent a lot of time thinking about the reality I’m now living in. Now that we’re in it, though, I’ve been asked to share some of the things I’ve learned so far:
I’ve learned that trying to trace where this came from or how this happened is not a useful way to spend my time. It is true that we can reduce our risks by following county guidelines, but at the end of the day, we must accept that we cannot control what has already happened, but we can control what happens next. We can spend time wallowing in self-pity and blame, or we can choose to count our blessings. We are healthy, we have each other, and we’re going to get through this.
I’ve learned about the reality of quarantining. I am in the middle of a 10-day isolation period, required for individuals who test positive. Because they are too young to be vaccinated, my children will need to quarantine for at least an additional five days. At minimum, they will miss two weeks of school. Both my husband’s and my workplaces have COVID-19-related leave policies, so the fact that I cannot go to work and our children cannot go to school is an inconvenience, not the burden that many families with less generous insurance, or no insurance, have to endure. We cannot go to parks or playgrounds, but we have a backyard our children can play in. We can get groceries delivered, and we can afford to do so. This is not easy, but this is not impossible for our family. Time and again over the last week or so, I’ve been reminded of how challenging this would be if we did not have financial security.
I’ve learned that admitting you have COVID-19 is hard. I assumed people would start treating me differently — I do, after all, have a very serious and contagious virus in my system. We’ve all been trained to fear it. But I think there is power in naming it and talking about it. And I have found that once it is named, the conversations about needs and support can begin.
I’ve learned that testing matters. We have daily access to free testing on our campus — it’s so easy you can do it in a passing period. If I had not tested, I would have continued to come to school and interact with hundreds of people — continuing to potentially expose all of those individuals to this virus. Sticking a swab up your nose is not fun, but it is easy, and it can provide us with information that can help us stop the spread of this virus. We owe it to each other to take advantage of this resource.
I’ve learned that vaccines matter. I had COVID-19 and I didn’t know it. My husband, my young children, and my parents all continue to test negative. As the days have gone on, I’ve had some symptoms, but they have been minor. This could have been really bad, and it wasn’t. I’m not a doctor, but I’m going to thank my vaccine for that.
And finally, I’ve been reminded of something that I’ve learned time and again in my decade-long tenure in this community: These people will be here for you. I was on the phone until at least 11 p.m. on the day I tested positive with people reaching out to make sure that we were okay. Teachers from our school and from Almond, where my son is in kindergarten, have dropped off toys and games to keep our kids occupied. I’ve had countless offers of support for me, my family, and my students. When I first saw my test results, I had a moment of panic — I felt like a failure, a pariah, a threat — but immediately I found myself surrounded by a community that said: we are here; you are not alone.
So what have I learned? Stock up on dried goods. Make a plan in case you have to quarantine. Test. Test again. And if you need help, look around you. These people will hold you up.
On the afternoon I tested positive, I had to go back to my classroom to pack up my things and head home to isolate. Ms. Abel met me in the hallway. She couldn’t hug me, she couldn’t come close. But she looked me in the eye and she said with a confidence that hid her own fear, “It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.” And she was right.