What happens when both parents catch COVID-19 but have two children to care for

With both of us now sick, we set the bar at survival. We took turns with the kids. We wore masks and gloves to make their food. We begged them to put themselves to bed. We tried not to seem sick, even though we took one step forward, another back.

Both parents have COVID-19
Courtesy Anne Kornblut

[Editor's note: Anne Kornblut is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who now runs the news curation team at Facebook. She is also a mother trying to parent two children after a COVID-19 diagnosis. Now she and her partner are both fighting COVID-19. The following post was originally published on her Facebook page and republished here with her permission.]

Last Friday, Jon's doctor called to say he had it, too. Jon hung up the phone and made a plus symbol. Positive. Even though it was probably inevitable, the news was strangely shocking.

First: we're now okay, doing better every day—and count ourselves among the very lucky. We have not been hospitalized or gravely ill. Over two weeks of sickness, tests and quarantine, we've been showered with love from friends and still gotten paychecks. Our kids seem to be completely fine, and are with us.

But the second diagnosis was a second dose of reality. This thing was now really really real, it was here, and we needed to pivot into an even more heightened state of awareness—if that was even possible.

The medical advice, already unclear, got more confusing. If both Jon and I have coronavirus, should we test our two kids? No, the doctors said. You should assume your kids have it, or already did.

So does that mean we can all hold each other, and be together in the same rooms? Can I take off my mask and gloves? No, the doctors said. You don't want to give them more virus—more "viral load"—and make them or both of you even sicker. And absolutely no one can come or go from the house.

I gave up on the mask soon anyway—slowly at first, then increasingly as it became clear that the kids needed our normalcy more than anything. We kept our distance from each other and from them. But we gave occasional quick hugs. How do you tell a 7-year-old and an 8-year-old that it will be fine, their parents won't both die, without some little touch?

Our daughter, so ecstatic at her first hug after all that time, made me an "I'm better!" button and insisted I wear it. It was premature, but I put it on anyway.

The kids' questions were searing. "How do people have funerals for coronavirus if people aren't allowed to be together?"
"If I die from coronavirus, how would my friends who don't know each other know to come to my funeral?"

We started looking at the house in a new light. What surfaces had we touched? What towels had we used? Where had we breathed?

Jon realized his exhaustion in the days prior was the virus, not tiredness from solo parenting. With both of us now sick, we set the bar at survival. We took turns with the kids. We wore masks and gloves to make their food. We begged them to put themselves to bed. We tried not to seem sick, even though we took one step forward, another back.

I went from no fever to a low fever. An odd headache recurred, one that felt like a kind of brain fog. My breathing was up and down—never very problematic, just enough to worry. The weird loss of smell thing happened with me, though not Jon. We both needed naps. And yet. My emotional balance scale—with fear and sadness on one side, countered by gratitude on the other—started to tip heavily in the direction of gratitude.

In the last two weeks I've heard from so many people, many for the first time in decades. Everyone has a coronavirus situation. I feel so close to people so far away.

A friend I haven't seen since music theory class my sophomore year in college wrote that he and his wife are in isolation in Woodstock with their dogs, waiting to see if they test positive after several people from her work had. Another friend, from high school, wrote that she had moved her mother with Alzheimer's from a memory care home into her dining room after another patient in the home tested positive.

Testing positive. That's how we're all putting it. A friend in New York wrote to say that his wife, 12 weeks pregnant, "just tested positive." "I could really use some advice from a veteran," he wrote. Other friends have written describing symptoms—sore throats, low fevers, headaches, tiredness. I try to remember to put a disclaimer on all my non-medical advice, which mostly amounts to sharing my experience. In all of it I can't help being grateful that I have a reason to talk to this friend from long ago, or that one I never have time to call.

The outpouring from our family, friends, neighbors and total strangers has made us feel loved like no other time since moving to California. Several have dropped off groceries, including impossible-to-find Lysol wipes. One made homemade beef stew; another left us egg muffins. Yet another somehow managed to arrange a giant bagel and matzoh ball soup delivery. A group of friends gave us a gift certificate to a local toy store that delivers. Someone sent us Bombas socks (please tell me if it was you); someone else sent books.

After Jon got the doctor's call, in a moment of parenting panic, I went online to get our son a much-begged-for Nintendo Switch. They were sold out everywhere. I posted a desperate note in a local group asking if anyone had an old one they could lend. Within minutes, someone in our neighborhood—someone we've never met—had dropped one off at our doorstep. "I hope you have a speedy recovery. You'll be in my prayers," he texted from outside our front door. At the same time, another friend in D.C. convinced her three kids to send us theirs. What friends, what neighbors we have. So much gratitude.

And yet. The disparity between our situation and what is happening outside our walls is unthinkable. It's wonderful, and deeply unfair, that we know people who can share a $300 game without much thought. And why am I improving every day, while a 36-year-old school principal in Brooklyn died? The arbitrariness of who's gotten sick and who hasn't, compounded by the injustice of who's getting help and who isn't, compounded by the great imbalance of who can eat this week and who won't, is overwhelming. Almost as soon as Jon and I learned we had both tested positive for this horrible thing, I started feeling haunted that we are relatively okay.

Every night I have dreams about infecting other people. I'm in a movie theater, sharing popcorn with someone, when I suddenly remember I have coronavirus and tell the other person. I'm in a meeting, borrowing someone's pen, when I tell them I'm sick. Night after night.

Yesterday I left the house for the first time in 13 days and took a walk in our neighborhood. It'll be at least another week and a half, and probably longer, before we're out of quarantine, but doctors say we can go outdoors if we stay far from others. So I veered 40 feet away from the nearest pedestrians. Even then I worried about the wind carrying my germs. By the time I returned home, I had to sleep.

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