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WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: Charlotte Doctor Balances Parenthood And Recovering From COVID-19

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This past summer is one many of us are looking forward to putting in our rearview mirrors. Canceled trips, postponed weddings, separation from friends and family, remote learning -- nothing went according to plan. How to be safe in the world and at work are still constant puzzles we try to solve.

And frontline workers know that best. 

That includes pediatrician Dr. Kasey Scannell and her family. It started back in July when her husband, who is a pediatric surgeon, could not get enough sleep.

"We always laugh; he's a surgeon," Scannell said. "He’s always tired. He’s always on call and always exhausted."

But that fatigue didn’t go away, even with rest.

"He was in the operating room and he just felt terrible," she said. "He didn’t have a fever, he didn’t have a cough or congestion. There was nothing else he just felt really awful. He got a rapid (coronavirus) test, which was positive."

There was no doubt about it, she says, despite his caution and use of PPE, her husband brought the virus home from work.

The couple have two daughters, ages 10 and 7. After her husband’s positive result came back, the goal was to halt the spread of the virus in the family. Sort of like if they could just stop the next domino from falling — maybe the rest of the family could be spared. He packed a bag and went to isolate at the house of a friend who had an apartment over the garage.  

Scannell and her daughters initially tested negative. Days later, a follow-up test revealed Scannell and her 10-year-old were positive. Fortunately, at that point, her husband was able to come out of quarantine.

"I retreated to my room, my oldest to her room and my husband got to take care of my youngest," she recalled. "So from that point, she was considered fully isolated from anybody who was still infectious with COVID. So we sort of had to tag team. Really, a lot of back and forth for our family of isolation and caretaking and things like that."

Scannell's symptoms included fatigue and headaches. Her younger daughter never tested positive — and she was tested three times.

"Younger kids have a strong innate immune system so I’m just wondering if she cleared it. She was exposed to it and cleared it and it never really settled," Scannell said. "The flip side is that my oldest daughter, who was positive, never had symptoms. It's tricky and a confusing virus. We would have never known she was positive if we hadn’t done our testing."

The family has kept a tiny social bubble during the pandemic, but as they recuperated, the biggest source of stress was if they had unknowingly spread the virus. It was hard to say when exactly her husband first came into contact with it.

"The anxiety was really the worst part of just thinking, 'What’s going to happen to my husband? How’s he going to handle it or myself? Or who have we exposed ourselves to amongst loved ones and friends and family members?'" she said.

The family eventully recovered. The couple is back at work.  And their daughters are now back in school — and in the classroom. They go to Trinity Episcopal School, a small private school that is offering both in-person and remote options.

Because the classes are so small and the school has the space to keep students properly distant, she says they felt comfortable letting them go back in person. Add the demanding schedules of two parents who are working doctors, and in-person learning felt like the right option for her family.

"They can still feel the sense of community and, of course, being with a teacher live is truly a gift right now," she said. "But instead of sitting at tables to promote group learning they are sitting two and two with Plexiglas in between them, and everyone is wearing masks and lunch is being brought to them and they are sitting at their desks eating lunch and not moving. It is very different."

And it’s also a fluid situation. If positive cases start to pop up or local health guidelines change, they’ll have to quickly transition to remote learning. She’s even had to think about what it would be like to bring her girls to work.

There is another option, more in line with creative pod learning families have turned to. Her family unit is close to another family that has children who match her daughters' ages.

"If we are pulled to full-remote we will do it at their house on the days I’m working and my house on the days that I’m home," she said. "And hopefully we will survive."

The important thing to remember, she says, is that what’s right for one family won’t work for another. And that’s what she’s telling parents who are looking to her for guidance when they bring their children in for a checkup. If she thinks it will help ease their anxiety, she shares her COVID-19 story with them to let them know everyone has been impacted by the pandemic.

"So many video visits or in-person visits or conversations about, 'Should I take my kid to daycare or school if they are reopening it?' And there are all these different questions," Scannell said. "I don’t mind having that conversation over and over again because I love to help my patients. It's just frustrating because I don’t have a good answer."

She says it depends on what’s going on in the household: Is there a newborn at home? Is someone receiving treatment for a serious illness? Or is the family unit small? Are there no pressing health issues?

What it comes down to is the big question parents need to ask themselves: "If COVID-19 were to come to your house what would that mean from a risk standpoint for you and how would that be managed?"

She knows it’s a complicated question because it’s one her family had to quickly answer. So she can say with confidence, it’s not simple. There are no easy answers because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

But these are questions families will need to continue to take a hard look at as we transition into the fall — what is the risk? And how will we manage?

WFAE wants to hear from you if you have a story about the challenges and changes you’ve experienced since the outbreak of the coronavirus leave us a voicemail at 704-916-9114. Or go to wfae.org for more information and we hope you and your loved ones are taking care. 

 

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.

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