Toronto Star

School COVID scare offered life lessons

- Uzma Jalaluddin email: ujalaluddi­

In the third week of October, I was on the phone chatting with a friend when my younger son Ibrahim came running down the stairs. “Mom, check your email! Someone in my class has COVID.”

I quickly got off the phone and, heart pounding, located the email from his school. It confirmed what my son had already found out from his class group chat: a student had tested positive for COVID-19 and his entire Grade 8 class and teacher were in lockdown, effective immediatel­y.

I’m a teacher, so I thought I knew the drill. Self-isolate, stay at home, avoid exposing others. Done, done, done. But what does that actually look like when it’s your own child exposed to the deadly virus?

I immediatel­y started barking questions at a bemused Ibrahim. Can you still smell things? Have you lost your sense of taste? Is your stomach hurting? Do you have a fever? Or a headache? He answered: No, no, no, no and yes, but that has nothing to do with the virus.

Point taken. I retreated to panicked googling. I looked up wait times at testing sites and made an appointmen­t at the Markham Stouffvill­e Hospital COVID clinic for the next day. Then promptly started worrying about false positives, false negatives, if the test would be painful and whether the entire family should be tested.

After which I remembered, with a rising sense of horror, all the people I had come into contact with over the past week: I had met friends in a socially distanced gathering; I had also visited my parents. Would someone become ill because we didn’t know?

I felt sick, but also resigned. My husband and I had known this exact scenario was a possibilit­y when my sons decided to

return to school face-to-face in September. As I had explained to everyone who asked (because what else have parents discussed for the past few months?), my sons had both requested to return to school in person. After having spent almost an entire semester learning on the dining-room table, the idea of more home school filled us all with dread.

But then, so did the idea of them possibly being exposed to COVID-19 in school. This year, there have been no good an

swers, no good choices. All we could do was say “bismillah” and pick the best of the two bad choices we had. My children went back to school and I suppose the “what-if” countdown clock started the moment they did.

My husband took Ibrahim to get tested the next day.

“Did it hurt?” I asked my stoic son when he returned.

Ibrahim shrugged. “Nope. It was really quick. It felt like when you do a somersault under water.”

The results could take as long as five days to get back to us. In the meantime, we had to assume that he had the virus and reconfigur­e our household accordingl­y.

We told Ibrahim to self-isolate in his room as much as possible and to wear a mask when he came outside. He would eat in his room and use the upstairs bathroom, while his older brother would take the basement facilities.

I wondered how parents with very young kids dealt with this situation. At least we had a large enough home to accommodat­e self-isolation; what about people who lived in multi-generation­al homes or in smaller spaces?

The entire experience made me even more aware of the disparity of resources. From the moment of possible infection, we were left to deal with the logistics of isolating on our own. We could do this easily, but other families might not be as lucky.

The actual self-isolation was difficult as well. Ibrahim did not like learning online. He was bored and lonely in his room, and would call me on my cellphone to complain, at length, multiple times a day. Thankfully he was not exhibiting any symptoms — neither was anyone else in his class — but we still wanted to be careful.

My husband, older son and I stuck close to home as well during this week, all of us living under a fearful cloud of “what if.”

I wondered if sending my kids to school had been the right decision after all. Then again, people can become infected after visiting a grocery store or taking a walk. The outside world began to feel full of danger.

Finally, four days into selfisolat­ion, I logged onto the COVID test portal for the 56th time. This time, Ibrahim’s results were up.

“Negative!” I crowed. We high-fived and cheered. He ripped the mask off his face and plopped in front of the family room television with an armful of snacks, as if nothing had happened. He returned to school a few days later.

Now I wait for whatever comes next, grateful to have dodged this particular bullet and hopeful that we will all somehow get through this experience. As for my son, he’s still happy to be attending school in person.

 ?? MUSTAFA MERCHANT ?? When Uzma Jalaluddin’s son Ibrahim was exposed to COVID-19 at school, she became more aware of the challenges some families may face should they need to isolate in such a situation.
MUSTAFA MERCHANT When Uzma Jalaluddin’s son Ibrahim was exposed to COVID-19 at school, she became more aware of the challenges some families may face should they need to isolate in such a situation.
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