By Elinor Tatum | Word In Black

(WIB) – There was no winter holiday this year in my house. No real fun stuff like we were used to during winter break for the kids. No Christmas morning with presents under the tree and happy faces everywhere. There was QUARANTINE.

But it could have gone very differently — and my whole family could have ended up infected with Covid-19 — if I hadn’t gotten lucky enough to find a test.

On Monday, December 20, we were informed that my vaccinated 11-year-old’s classroom would be going remote for the remainder of the week until the students returned from vacation.  Apparently, there had been a student or teacher who had Covid-19 in the classroom, something we had feared since the beginning of the school year. 

“I had been looking in New York City, where I live, for at-home rapid tests, but I couldn’t find any.”

I bought a rapid test. She was negative. I was negative too. We were all good. So my daughter was home for the remainder of the week. She took it in stride. I think she liked experiencing homeschool again. She got to wake up late and was able to bug me all day. 

We were still very excited for the winter break because our cousins from Atlanta (all eight of them) were joining us in Upstate New York. They were going to come up, spend a few days, and try skiing. The kids, ages 6-12, had their new snow pants and mittens, and then the better part of wisdom set in. 

My cousin Nicole said,“The Covid numbers are skyrocketing. I think we will need to cancel our trip.” Her sister Christine and her daughter were still going to try to come up, but then she started to feel ill. Just a cold, she thought. She tested negative, but she decided to stay down South.

So very quickly, it went from dinner for 14 to dinner for four.

That Thursday afternoon, my daughter went off to see her father. So I went to Upstate New York to prepare for what was left of the holidays.

On Friday, I went to do some last-minute shopping when I felt a tickle in my throat that just wouldn’t go away. I was starting to feel sick. Earlier in the week, I had been looking in New York City, where I live, for at-home rapid tests, but I couldn’t find any. Luckily when I popped into a CVS upstate, they had just gotten a shipment. I bought as many tests as I could get and sat in my car as I waited for the results. Ten minutes later, that little pink line was staring right at me. I was positive. 

I started making the requisite phone calls and found a place to take a PCR test. Fortunately, I only had to wait 10 minutes. 

When I got home, everyone got tested. And when I picked up my daughter, she got tested too. My mother was positive, my daughter was positive. The holiday was a wrap. We would stay in order groceries from Instacart and rely on friends to get us the little things we needed.

Back in Manhattan, my friend Laura was in a similar situation. Her son’s school closed his classroom that Monday. He tested negative. They all took PCR tests, and they were negative. They were about to leave for the airport on Friday morning and she gave him a rapid test. POSITIVE. Their trip was off. Quarantine as well.

This was the chorus heard around the country. Everyone was getting Covid. It was like joining a club that no one wanted to be a member of. Or did you?  Was it better to get it over with, to get it now when it was the Omicron variant?  We knew that because we were vaccinated and boosted we were relatively safe, and we all have had very mild cases. In fact, my daughter was completely asymptomatic. 

When my daughter got back to school on January 3, 2022, we found out that on December  21, the day after her classroom shut down,  several other classrooms in her school also closed. And, by the last day before winter break, there were only two classrooms open in the entire school. 

Despite this, we only ever heard from the school — never a word from the New York CIty Department of Education. When I got my PCR test back with a positive result, there was never a contact tracer in touch with me. Even after reaching out to two different counties, no one ever got in touch.

“Everyone was getting Covid. It was like joining a club that no one wanted to be a member of.”

My family spent winter break at home in quarantine. At least we were together, a little worse for the wear, a little sniffly, but overall fine in the grand scheme of things. We made it through this round of Covid. We followed the rules, stayed away from others, and quarantined. 

But what about all those who didn’t? What about all those who didn’t even know they had Covid because they couldn’t find somewhere to take a test or had limited access to home test kits?  In some countries in Europe, they give out home test kits for free when you land at the airport. 

We have to do better. We can quarantine all we want. We can all get vaccinated, but if we can’t get tested, then the COVID-19 pandemic will never go away. We need to have tests available to all of us. And cities can’t close down testing sites because there is a lull in cases, as was the case in New York City in November. 

Tests need to be affordable, and the results need to be fast. And we need to remember that just because we test once and don’t have it, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow we still won’t have it. Test often and test everyone. And stay safe. Happy New Year.

Elinor Tatum is the publisher of The Amsterdam News

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” — Shirley Chisholm

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.