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Three Days to Notify Me of My Son’s COVID Exposure is Too Long

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
11/30/20  8:00 AM PST
COVID exposure

It Took Three Days for the Health Department to Notify Me of My Son’s COVID Exposure and That is Three Days Too Long

I woke up at three a.m. and flipped over my phone. Yes, I know – keeping the phone by your bed is bad practice. It perpetuates that already hard to break technology addiction. But something, mother’s intuition perhaps, woke me and told me to check the phone and I’m glad I did.

Lighting up the night with its eerie blue light was a voicemail and this text from my son’s special education teacher:

“I wanted to let you know that around 7:45 tonight I got a call from the doctor’s office saying I tested positive for COVID and I wanted to let you know that I was around Charlie for more than 30 minutes yesterday. Technically I can’t tell you to keep him home as the health department is taking their time getting the call out, but I’m calling and texting all the parents because I didn’t feel right if I didn’t let you know.”

I did not go back to sleep.

Instead, I began researching precautions for those who are not infected with COVID but have been in close contact with those who are. Without any official word from the health department, I was on my own to determine the safest course of action.

Here’s what we did:

  1. We kept our son home from school. Obviously.
  2. I spoke with the school nurse. Charlie’s teacher was right. Technically, until the health department calls informing you of the COVID exposure, you can send your child to school if he or she has presented no symptoms. But once you have been notified, you must quarantine for 14 days with no symptoms. Or, if symptoms arise and you test positive, you must quarantine for ten days after the positive test to let it run its course.
  3. We found the nearest drive-thru testing center and all got tested. None of us were presenting symptoms, but Charlie is immunocompromised and has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair and has difficulty breathing when he is sick. “Wait and see” is not an option. The medical and military personal at the agricultural center where we were tested were lovely. It was efficient. We didn’t risk further contamination by getting him out of the car. In fact, we drove directly into the arena where the annual rodeo takes place and Charlie was ecstatic at the bright lights and men and women in uniform. They waved and smiled. And the test itself was a nasal swab that was more irritating than painful. We drove away with a handful of stickers for Charlie and assurances that we would be notified of our results within 24-48 hours. This was all within the first day. Still no call from the health department.
  4. By the following morning and after frequent temperature checks, handwashing, mask-wearing, and airing out our house, we felt a little better that Charlie had presented no symptoms.
  5. Two days later, we got the call that he was negative. That same day he spiked a fever. So we took him for another test. (Yes, you can test too early.) The results came back faster this time and they were positive. Charlie had Covid. And still, no call from the health department.
  6. We stayed home. For 14 days.

The health department did not call until three days after Charlie’s teacher’s initial diagnosis. That is 72 hours of his COVID exposure. I am grateful to his teacher for contacting us. I am grateful for the drive-through center that made the testing process much safer and easier. I am grateful to our neighbors and friends who dropped off meals and offered to walk our dog as we waded through the process of figuring out best practices, especially once we found out he had the virus. But even now, long after our quarantine has ended, I still cannot believe it took the health department so long to let us know of Charlie’s exposure and the protocols to follow to ensure his well-being. He is a kid with special needs who, if he contracts the disease, could have a much harder time recovering. Time really is of the essence. Luckily for us, his symptoms were mild. But I don’t want to rely on luck. I want reassurance that all levels of the system from us at ground level all the way up to the health department are working to minimize the impact of this pandemic.

If I could have one wish for 2021, it would be that we find a way to eliminate this lag time and therefore minimize exposure and begin to usher in a healthier, happier, safer new year.

child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.
Read her blog, The Mom Gene.
Follow her on Facebook.


1 Comment

  1. Melanie A.
    Posted December 6, 2020 at 4:07 am PST

    I can’t believe the health dept never notified u. They are people out there who just dont care especially about kids with special needs they think they wont live long enough and arent strong but your son is a very strong boy and u are a loving caring strong mother who kept him in close care and contact and quickly cared to go get tested knowing the situation if he never would of apiked a fever you qould have nevee known. Great job teachwe for caring as well enough to call her and notify his mom. There are people out there who dont care if there positive and still tend to do what there not supposed to. As I can see look how the pandemic spread and is still spreading

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