Amanda and Chris Belknap had always taken the coronavirus threat seriously.
Yet despite precautions, the entire family has become infected with COVID-19 within weeks of each other.
“We’d been extremely careful,” Amanda said. “This is exactly what we had worked so hard since March to avoid.”
The family’s main concern was their 9-year-old son, Logan, who has asthma. Symptoms of the virus include compromising the lungs, even in children.
They limited their interactions, avoiding restaurants and other public places. They wore masks and practice social distancing. They ordered groceries and picked them up at the store, where a clerk loaded the items into their car.
Their three children have stayed home to do their schoolwork online.
Both Chris and Amanda are teachers in USD 257. Amanda teaches math at Iola High School. Chris is the computer lab instructor at Iola Middle School.
Amanda had concerns about teaching in-person. She’s been careful to insist her students wear face masks in classes and practice social distancing. She has a plexiglass shield around her desk.
On Nov. 13, Chris was notified that he’d been exposed to someone infected and he began to quarantine.
On Nov. 16, Amanda was notified that she’d been exposed to someone with the virus, and began quarantining.
Both parents were able to continue teaching remotely.
But their situation put the entire family into quarantine.
Chris and Amanda experienced very mild symptoms. So mild, in fact, they initially dismissed them as allergies or perhaps a slight cold.
Then, on Nov. 19, their oldest child, Molly, 14, started crying. Her chest hurt and it was hard to breathe, she said.
She tested positive for COVID-19.
“Those first few days were rough. First it was her breathing, then a fever, headache and body ache,” Amanda said. “It took her about eight days to get over it. She’s doing well, but if she walks from her bedroom to the living room, she’s out of breath. And she’s typically a very active kid.”
On Saturday, Ethan, 13, told his mother, “My head hurts,” and laid his head on Amanda’s arm to snuggle.
“He was on fire. I thought, ‘OK, here we go.”
On Monday, Logan became ill. The family has been carefully monitoring his oxygen levels and heart rate because of his asthma. His heart rate has been elevated, but so far he seems to be handling the illness relatively well.
“We knew we brought it into the house, because they’d been nowhere,” Amanda said.
“I’m fighting the guilt from that. I go back and forth between maybe there was nothing we could do and it was inevitable, to maybe I should have done more.”
And even though her entire family became ill, Amanda still believes precautions are necessary.
“Nothing is 100%. That’s why it’s extremely important to take every precaution you can, because it still reduces the risk for others.”
The family’s experience also illustrates how much remains unknown about COVID-19 and its transmission.
Both Chris and Amanda experienced only mild symptoms and tested negative; Amanda had two tests. Even so, they transmitted the virus to their children, who all three tested positive.
A representative from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was in contact with the family about every other day, Amanda said. All five members of the family were considered positive cases.
“Either we had false negatives, or it got out of our system really quickly, or we were just carrying it,” Amanda speculated about the fact that she and Chris tested negative.
“I don’t understand how it happened. We were both really careful.”
AN OUTPOURING of support has followed the family’s diagnosis.
Family and friends frequently drop off food and supplies like board games. Others have ordered things online to be delivered to the home.
Amanda’s pre-COVID precautions included keeping the freezer and pantry stocked with food, but she still appreciated the thoughtful gestures.
“It’s been overwhelming. It’s so sweet,” she said. “We’ve had so many people call and text, and offer to get us whatever we need.”
The school district also has been a great source of support, she said.
The district had a plan that kicked off as soon as the Belknaps went into quarantine. They could still teach and meet with students online about every day.
“I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have a job that had the kind of plans they do,” Amanda said. “Some people are not that lucky.”
THE FAMILY’S quarantine is scheduled to end Dec. 22.
They call it their “freedom date.”
Both Chris and Amanda were disappointed they won’t be able to return to school before the winter break begins. They won’t see their students until January.
But that delay and their family’s experience could have a bit of a silver lining.
KDHE officials said the children should expect to have at least 90 days of immunity. The Belknaps are considering sending them back to school when classes resume in January.
“That should get them through the worst of winter,” Amanda said.
Both Ethan and Logan are excited about the opportunity to return to in-person classes and see their friends. Molly, who is in high school and interacts with her classmates via Zoom every hour, isn’t quite as excited to return.
The children have done well with remote learning and the experience has improved their time management skills. Still, the boys are eager to connect with friends.
The Belknaps say their family’s COVID experience has made them even bigger advocates of taking precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.
“I would encourage people to do everything they can to avoid this, because it is not fun,” Amanda said via a phone interview. “It’s been very stressful and not at all how I thought things would go.”
She paused and chuckled, “My husband is yelling from the other room, ‘This sucks!’”