Her family did everything right, but they still caught COVID-19 amid a school outbreak
School precautions giving 'false sense of safety,' fully vaccinated Ottawa mom warns
An Ottawa woman says she's frustrated and furious after her entire family contracted COVID-19 amid a recent school outbreak, despite taking every possible precaution against the virus.
CBC has agreed not to name the woman or her family members, nor reveal certain details that might identify them — including where the woman works — because she's concerned speaking out could jeopardize her career.
"We are a family who feel that we have done everything right," the woman said in a phone interview from her home earlier this week.
It feels like we've been outrunning this monster for 19 months, and none of it really mattered anyway because now it's here on the doorstep
"We are very frustrated that we are in this position, because it feels like we've been outrunning this monster for 19 months, and none of it really mattered anyway because now it's here on the doorstep."
The woman's daughters, six and nine, attend St. Benedict Catholic School in Ottawa's suburban Barrhaven neighbourhood. The elementary school was temporarily closed last week amid a COVID-19 outbreak involving at least 35 cases. (Three Ottawa elementary schools have now been closed due to outbreaks, including one on Monday.)
The previous Friday, the woman's younger daughter began complaining that her head and body ached, and she later developed a deep cough. Over the next two days, the woman, 38, her husband, 40, and their nine-year-old daughter also fell ill with a variety of symptoms including fever, congestion and diarrhea.
"It's not like you slowly get really sick and then you slowly get better," the woman said. "Each day, some symptoms might be gone entirely and then others have popped up. And those might last a day or two — and then those are gone, and the other ones are back."
Both the woman and her husband are double-vaccinated against COVID-19 and have been for months.
Nevertheless, in the days after their symptoms first appeared, all four family members tested positive. The couple is now among an increasing number of so-called breakthrough infections in Canada.
That's despite taking "a large amount of caution," the woman said. The family has had limited contact with others, wear close-fitting N95 masks everywhere they go and wash their hands religiously.
But because her job requires her to be out of the house every weekday, and her husband, although working from home, is too busy to supervise their daughters' schooling, the family had no choice but to send the girls back to school in September, the woman said.
She said her younger daughter, who's just started Grade 1, would often complain that her classmates weren't always distancing or wearing their masks properly and would talk during lunch despite the rules.
"It feels like we couldn't protect our kids, even though we tried to do everything right," the woman said. "And that's a really [terrible] feeling for a parent."
Province has 'failed miserably'
She's not blaming the school, the board or even local public health officials, but rather the province.
"I put my family's health in their hands, and I do feel like they failed miserably," she said. "I have a hard time believing that there's nothing else we could do to keep our kids safer ... but I know that all of those things come with a price tag. And they're things that the provincial government is not willing to do to keep our kids safe."
The woman believes the province is failing to adequately fund local school boards to take extra precautions such as staggering lunch breaks and recess, or stepping up supervision to make sure students are following COVID-19 protocols.
I feel like there's a false sense of security and a false sense of safety.
She also worries the Ottawa Public Health self-screening tool used by the Ottawa Catholic School Board might not have captured some of the milder symptoms her older daughter first experienced.
"We would not have been caught by the self-screening tool, and that concerns me greatly," she said.
(Both the screening tool and the current provincial guidelines say children should stay home if anyone in the household experiences symptoms.)
Finally, she believes schools should implement widespread random testing of students to catch asymptomatic cases before they can cause an outbreak.
"If they could implement that tomorrow, I would feel immensely more confident in our family situation and how the rest of the school year is going to play out," she said Monday.
On Tuesday, the province announced it would distribute rapid antigen testing kits to schools and child-care centres in high-risk areas, at the request of local public health units. Take-home testing kits are also available from dozens of Ottawa schools.
The woman's daughters are now recovering well, but she has lost her senses of taste and smell and has a nagging cough. Her husband, who has asthma and suffered a bout of pneumonia in August, has been slowest to recover, she said.
She said if they could, they would continue to keep their daughters home from school, and she warns other parents against becoming complacent because they're vaccinated or because their child's school hasn't experienced an outbreak.
"I feel like there's a false sense of security and a false sense of safety, and I'm realizing first-hand just how much I fell into that, too," she said.
- An earlier version of this story suggested Ottawa Public Health's online screening tool doesn't recommend keeping children home from school when another household member shows symptoms of COVID-19. It does, as per provincial guidelines.Oct 06, 2021 1:32 PM ET