What’s a Preschool Parent to Do?

Getting a Test for Someone Under Two Years Old

Credit: Monte Wolverton, Battle Ground, WA

During one of my recent anxiety-fueled down-the-rabbit-hole-of-the-internet insomniac adventures, I found myself reading about the last survivor of the Titanic, an English woman named Millvina Dean, who died peacefully at the ripe age of 97 in 2009. Millvina was barely two months old when her family boarded the Titanic, destined for a better life in America. Except, well, it turns out the Titanic wasn’t unsinkable. What I find especially miraculous is that somehow, women and children were prioritized for survival while the Titanic was sinking. Millvina, her mother, and her young brother were saved in a lifeboat, which were famously in short supply. Her father went down with the ship.

I muse about this as a first-time mother of a Pandemic baby, who has successfully reached healthy toddlerhood in the most extraordinary of times despite a larger society that, quite frankly, hasn’t done enough to protect and support our most vulnerable.

I’m thinking about how in this dreadful Pandemic, of which we find ourselves well in the Terrible Twos, there are not adequate resources available to families with small children — particularly children under two — especially when it comes to testing.

Yes, everyone is hustling for a test right now. But for parents of children under two, we cannot use at-home test kits as the FDA did not authorize their use for two and under. We are not yet affiliated with school districts, many of which have set up testing sites for their pupils. Kids under five still cannot get vaccinated, the trials keep getting extended, and the California Department of Public Health has a predilection for sharing preschool guidance after they issue guidance for just about everything else.

Preschools are basically like the last-call at your local dive bar — and in this case, the bar is full of only unvaccinated people and no one practices social distancing.

Preschools are an adorably chaotic cesspool of slobbery, snotty, stumbling, speech slurring, and no-sense-of-personal-boundaries drunkards who exchange all the germs, and the risk of an outbreak is catastrophic and very real. Therefore, at the onset of as much of a sneeze, one runny nose, or letting a cough slip, kids are immediately sent home. And that means they get a 5-10 day jail sentence and cannot return until they have a negative COVID test.

Parents get the urgent call and must drop everything to pick them up from school. It feels like a walk of shame. You replay the last 24 hours in your head: Was my baby sick, and I missed it? What kind of monster sends a sick kid to school?!? Any hope of having a professional presence at your job this week gets dashed. Try typing an email with someone scream-demanding, “Up! Mama! Up!” in your face while also pawing at your keyboard. Survival and your sanity depend on finding a COVID test and fast!

Well good luck getting one of those!

Oh call your pediatrician for a test they say? HA! Our provider, which happens to be the biggest in Santa Barbara County, is so overwhelmed with a pediatric caseload that the last time I visited for my son’s well-visit check-up, our nurse lamented about how even she couldn’t get a test for her school-aged daughter. Their nurses regularly have a queue of 100+ families to call back, who like me, have called, emailed, and called again to try to get a test. If we are lucky, we can get a rapid test two to three days after our call and email campaign and only after a scheduled telehealth visit with the pediatrician, which isn’t free. And this was the process before Omicron overwhelmed everyone.

If you can access a County Public Health test site or a state-run site, the results currently take four days to come back. Last week we had to drive more than two hours to get a test at the only site offering same-day tests on the Central Coast. That trip fit in great with the nap schedule (that is sarcasm).

If money isn’t an issue, you can pay a private local company $125 to do a test with results promised within 24 hours.

If, unfortunately, your kid really is sick and needs to go to urgent care, you can get tested there. But the reality is that most kids sent home from preschool (thankfully?) have symptoms so mild that a trip to urgent care is not warranted.

If your kid has mild symptoms and doesn’t really seem sick at all, and you’re a responsible and conscientious community member, what is there to do with a toddler while you’re waiting for COVID test results? There’s only so many times he can ride down the tike slide nestled in my living room, only so much furniture to bump into in my tiny house, and playgrounds become off limits. Now do you see why us parents are starting to lose our minds?

Every preschool I know has moved heaven and earth and stretched budgets to stay staffed and open and to ensure the safety of our children. But they are stretched thinner than they already were. Early childhood care isn’t exactly a money-making endeavor. Preschools can only do so much alone. Asking them to partner with a local school district so preschoolers at least have access to testing is a major lift. The majority of accredited daycares and preschools in Santa Barbara County are in-home. They don’t have extra employees sitting around able to make things like this happen. Most are barely scraping by.

For the first time ever, we have a feminist governor who has young children. And still, preschool families cannot get relief. We are left to fend for ourselves. CDPH should pour resources, including free PPE and free testing into all daycare and preschool sites. Why CDPH didn’t think to set up surveillance testing programs for preschools is beyond me. Most small kids are asymptomatic or have barely noticeable COVID symptoms, which is not a reason to not take these protocols seriously. But instead of being sophisticated about how we monitor and keep our most vulnerable safe, kids get sent home for as little as a sneeze, parents check out of work, and the hunt for testing — which should be readily available and accessible two years into this Pandemic — begins.

It’s no wonder why I have late night anxiety-fueled insomnia.

At least when I finally fall asleep, I can dream about a time and a place where women with children were prioritized in a crisis, even though the crisis really is a nightmare.

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