A Parent’s Perspective – “Here’s what I learned after being notified that my teenager was exposed to a positive COVID case.”

Last week I received the ‘dreaded’ communication from school that my teen was exposed to a positive COVID case. While it’s not what you want to hear as a parent – it’s a reality that will likely happen given in-person school during a pandemic. But, what DID surprise me was that the exposure had occurred 10 days earlier(?!). While I was confident my teen had not caught COVID from sitting next to someone in class, I was very surprised it took so long to notify us of the exposure. What if we did have it in our family? How many people had we unknowingly exposed (e.g. each child’s close friend group and sports teams).

I set off to do the ‘right thing’ and have my teen tested. Here’s what I learned. COVID testing appointments – particularly on the weekend – are really difficult to find. The ONLY available appointment I was able to find was the next day in Sartell, MN…which is 60 miles from our home. If we didn’t take that one, it would be waiting 2-3 days to get an appointment. Oh…and I shouldn’t forget to mention that unless you happen to find a “Rapid Test” appointment, you will need to wait 2-3 more days to get your results. That’s 3 – 5 days of waiting! It puts several things into perspective (e.g. notification 10-days past exposure, surge in community spread cases, etc.).

All of this made me do some self-reflection. Prior to this experience, I would likely have been a ‘grin and bear it’ parent and waited a day or two if a family member had mild symptoms (e.g. If it’s likely allergies, why go through the fuss of testing?). After this experience, I will act differently. If someone in my family experiences any symptoms, I will schedule an appointment right away, but will aim to get one 24 hours out. If it’s a false alarm and symptoms subside, the appointment can be cancelled. But, if things get worse, I have an appointment! It might be a lot of hassle for nothing, but I will be doing everything I can…TO KEEP OUR KIDS IN SCHOOL.

Thank you to this parent who took the time to share their experience. As we work together to navigate school in a pandemic, our common goal of safely keeping students in school remains paramount. This parent’s perspective echoes questions many parents have, as well as the wisdom that working to keep students in school is not without its hassles. What follows is perspective from the health office.

Delay in Notification to Quarantine

To understand why there can be a delay before you are notified your student was a close contact, let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Providence waits for a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19 before notifying your family of any close contact.

Sometimes symptoms can be mild and not recognized as potential COVID-19 symptoms. When this happens, days can pass until something else triggers the need to test (for example, a family member who becomes symptomatic and seeks testing). If there are no available testing appointments or appointments to see the doctor, that can add on 1 to 3 days, as well as another 1 to 3 days for test results. On top of this, we add two days prior to symptom onset to determine the start of the contagious period (we’re contagious before we even know we’re sick). Add those days together and that accounts for a delay in notification.

Why not start contact tracing at the onset of symptoms?
As we have seen through the first two months of school, there are still many other viruses that are causing illness in our students. Contact tracing and notification begin once the school has learned of a lab confirmed case.

Don’t grin and bear it
With the community spread we have in our area, paying close attention to symptoms is key. Refer to the MDH decision tree for help in deciding when to keep your student home. It’s not the year to “tough it out.”

Rapid testing versus the 2 to 3 day results
Rapid testing (also known as antigen testing) can be used for symptomatic people within the first 5 to 7 days of symptom onset, or for those considered a contact of a positive case. Results are given in 15 to 30 minutes.

2 to 3 day tests (also known as PCR tests) can be used on symptomatic and asymptomatic people and are the most sensitive and specific. Saliva tests fall into this category. 

Testing on weekends
It can be difficult to find testing on weekends. MDH does have a testing locator on their website. There is also a new MDH saliva testing center in Brooklyn Park that is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 4. An appointment is needed. 

Quarantine – Why 14 days are necessary even with a negative test