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School’s back? Only until they catch the next bug

Barry Batchelor/PA

School’s back? Only until they catch the next bug

No text. Sigh.

I looked at the clock – 6.59am. COVID test results are returned within 48 hours, according to the government website, and it had been 39. As they hadn’t arrived yet, I thought with a sinking heart, that meant another day off school for our daughter, and another fraught day of combining work and childcare for her father and I.

Then mid-morning today, with the wee one still in her dressing gown, there was the ping of a text message: she was negative and – ping! – my husband was too. 

I did a victory dance through the flat. It took a bit longer but my result also came through negative.

My daughter is now back at school and what passes for normality has returned.

But this scenario – being played out in countless households across the country after a weekend when COVID test centres have faced exceptional demand – underlines how children will continue to miss out on school in the absence of a vaccine. 

Our child lost nearly a day and a half as she awaited her test result, and was by no means the only one. I know of several other families who have children off school right now with respiratory symptoms – symptoms that wouldn’t normally stop them going to school.

Missing a day or two of school wouldn’t normally matter too much, but given how much school children have already missed and now that teachers are doing crucial catch-up work with them, it could potentially matter rather a lot - especially if it keeps happening.

The return of school always heralds an increase in colds and other respiratory infections, as interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith noted yesterday. The trouble is that they don’t just disappear again; bugs do the rounds continually in autumn and winter, but this year they’ll result in many more children staying off school, school they can ill afford to miss.

Some will show red flag symptoms that oblige their parents to put the family in self-isolation and organise tests, but others will be kept off with more minor symptoms, for fear of frightening staff and other parents if they send their children into class with runny noses and intermittent coughs.

All this is responsible and necessary, but terribly disruptive.

You also wonder, after the first couple of times receiving negative test results, how many parents might stop bothering to get their children tested.

The sniffles – no more than that – came on for my five-year-old on Saturday evening. I also sneezed a couple of times. Then on Sunday morning, as we were having breakfast before a long-anticipated trip to Blair Drummond Safari Park, I realised I couldn’t taste properly. Just as this thought occurred to me, my daughter frowned and announced that her cereal tasted funny, “sour and a little bit sweet, not like usual”. Oh dear. Change in sense of taste or smell, I confirmed with a quick check of the government website, was a symptom that necessitated a COVID test. 

We postponed our plans for the safari park (cue tearstorm from the P2) and went online to book tests. We live in Edinburgh but were offered Glenrothes, Falkirk or Galashiels, due to high demand in the capital.

At 3.30, we rolled into a slow-moving queue of traffic at a leisure centre car park in Glenrothes. The truth was that our sense of taste had returned pretty quickly, within an hour or so of booking the tests, but we went ahead with them anyway, I suppose because it felt like we should.  

The logistical effort was impressive: the army team had been in Stirling in the morning and had then transferred to Fife. A young, friendly soldier instructed us to swab our tonsils for 10 seconds without touching our tongues. As we parked up nearby, we could see a dozen other cars containing people engaged in this tricky game of Operation!, some peering into their car vanity mirrors, others gingerly inserting the swabs into their children’s open mouths. It’s not easy, swabbing your own tonsils (or your child’s, for that matter), as it triggers the gag reflex, but we managed as best we could. Opinion seems to be divided on what is harder, that or the next bit where you put the swab up your nose “until you feel a slight resistance” and then rotate it for 10-15 seconds. I found the tonsils tougher; my husband and daughter disliked the nose probe. But we got it done, handed in our tests and headed home to wait.

Now our suspicions have been confirmed: we didn’t have COVID, just a bit of congestion caused by a mild cold that cleared as the day progressed.

But there is still one lingering question: how long before we have to do it all again?

Read the most recent article written by Rebecca McQuillan - Who will get burned over the UK Internal Market Bill?




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