By Bob Huxford
Things were finally returning to something approaching normal. For the first time in six months my three kids were back in school and my wife, Sarah, was earning again, having had no income from her job as a childminder since March. That was last Monday, by Thursday the world was upside down again.
When on Thursday morning my twelve-year old son, Ted, woke up to a bit of a cough and a temperature we had a collective household panic. Eight families were about to drop their children off with Sarah for the day – could we hope Ted just had a minor sniffle and carry on as normal?
The guidelines on the NHS website are unambiguous. If your child has one or more of the following symptoms: a high temperature; a new, continuous cough; or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste, you must: get them a coronavirus test as soon as possible; everybody living in the house must stay at home (apart from to get the test); and you must have no visitors.
We quickly phoned around all the parents, completely disrupting their days as well, and then called the schools of our three children to say they wouldn’t be coming in. I then phoned work to say I’d be back to working at home again for the foreseeable future.
As with a lot of colds they’re worst in the early morning and late at night than they are in the daytime. An hour later Ted was fine, all coughing had gone, and his temperature was back to normal. Unfortunately, Sarah couldn’t now return to work, nor our kids to school, until Ted had undertaken a test to prove he was virus free.
After a full morning on the Gov.uk website trying to secure a coronavirus test at the centre around the corner from us in Bromley, Sarah eventually gave up and took an appointment that afternoon in Barking on the other side of the Thames. The round trip took three and a half hours in total.
All we could do then was wait for the results which can take anything from 24 to 72 hours to come through. The inevitable negative result finally arrived on Saturday and so the false alarm ultimately resulted in two days of lost income for Sarah, six days total of lost schooling across my three kids, and eight families had their arrangements disrupted for a full two days, most likely resulting in further missed work and costs to them. We also happened to miss our anniversary night out on the Friday as couldn’t invite our own babysitter around until the result came back.
That’s a fair bit of turmoil from an hour’s coughing. With winter on the way, when colds and flu are a regular occurrence, and a house permanently packed with kids from Sarah’s job, a bit of coughing from at least one person is likely to be a daily experience. If we have a repeat of last Thursday’s antics each time that happens, we’ll be in a perpetual state of chaos and parents will never know if their childcare has been secured.
Preventing this state of affairs, while also abiding by the NHS guidelines and ensuring the safety of the children in Sarah’s care, will likely prove a fine balancing act in the months ahead. A level of pragmatism will be required for any kind of a working arrangement and government guidelines don’t provide for much flexibility. On the surface things appeared to be back to normal at the start of last week, but for my wife they’re anything but. We’re not out of the woods yet.