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My kid got COVID at school. On his 4th day.

They said it was safe to send kids to school. Within days, my 6-year-old tested positive.
Writer JiaYing Grygiel's son, sick with COVID-19.
Writer JiaYing Grygiel's son, sick with COVID-19.JiaYing Grygiel
/ Source: TODAY

Well, that didn’t take long.

Four days of in-person school and my first grader came home with COVID. We followed all the rules ⁠— he wore his mask, washed his hands, socially distanced — and he still got sick.

We started school on Sept. 1, so adding the Labor Day weekend puts his positive test well within the incubation period window. Sure, it could be a coincidence, starting school and contracting COVID at the same time. But before Sept. 1, he hadn’t been indoors all day with hundreds of unvaccinated people.

He’d spent his entire kindergarten year online, so this was his first taste of school. He was so proud to be a big boy and finally go to school. Lining up on the blacktop, wearing his hand-me-down backpack with the buses and airplanes print, he didn’t even look back as his class marched inside.

Vaccination rates in our area are high, and I’d read every one of those articles polling epidemiologists about whether they were sending their own kids in-person. (They were.) We got reassuring messages from the district about all the safety measures they were implementing, how it was so important for kids’ mental health to be in school. School is supposed to be a safe place to learn.

So I sent him into that petri dish.

What was I thinking? Online school last year was a good fit for our family. This year, however, the district made online school as unappealing as possible. You had to sign up for the entire year (not just until you were vaccinated) and you’d lose your spot in your choice school. And remember when they were saying vaccines would be available for kids aged 5 to 12 by September?

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After his fourth day of school, my first grader went to bed feeling warm. That night he woke up sobbing and 102 degrees. I thought it was just us catching up with all the germs we missed out on last year. He earned his first-ever trip to the COVID test site. Nasty little shock when his nose swab came back positive.

JiaYing Grygiel's son is pictured feeling miserable after catching COVID-19.
JiaYing Grygiel's son is pictured feeling miserable after catching COVID-19.JiaYing Grygiel

The school isn’t requiring his class to quarantine. The school isn’t even requiring everyone to get tested. This is the land of the free, the home of the brave.

And then the school nurse had the nerve to say, Oh, he might have gotten it somewhere else. Way to piss off a mom who’s kept her kids COVID-free for 1½ years. There were no plane trips, no pod friends, no eating in restaurants, no in-person school or camp since the beginning of the pandemic. It’ll be three years before we’ll see my family on the East Coast; they won’t even recognize this string bean of a kid.

The nurse recommended quarantining my COVID patient. Unclear whether she’s worked with human children. He’s 6. I can’t exactly shut him in a room by himself for 10 days.

The infection wore him out. There were many days he didn’t wake up until noon, like a teenager. It took more than a week before my son started to feel like his usual mischievous self again. I was so relieved when I had to scold him, a sure sign he was feeling better. He was fortunate: he never had difficulty breathing, had a fever for more than three days, or stopped eating and drinking. (Any of those symptoms and you need to go to the hospital.)

Coughs, sneezes, tummy bugs, lice. And now COVID. Everything spreads when you stick a bunch of kids together, even if you mask them and douse them in hand sanitizer and Clorox. When the school tells you they’re doing everything they can, that’s a big, fat lie.

You can come up with a real remote option. Let kids go remote until vaccines are available. You can go hybrid so there are fewer people breathing in a room. You can have classes outside. You don’t punish parents waiting for a vaccine by forcing them to unenroll their kids. You need to be transparent, and let all the parents in the school know when someone tests positive. You don’t let political pressure to keep schools open trump our kids’ safety.

We are trusting you with our children. You need a better plan for students under 12. Because what happens if you don’t? Kids get COVID.

Ask me how I know.

This story was first published on TODAY on Sept. 13, 2021. It has been updated to reflect the boy's health condition since his initial diagnosis and to explain that his fourth day of school fell after Labor Day weekend.

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