The new normal

For Jon Willing, that elusive perfect bill of toddler health is what’s needed to keep his family’s world turning during a pandemic

The Willing family. Photo Courtesy Jon Willing

Within the first three weeks of being back at daycare, Miles and his mom were in line at Brewer Arena waiting for a health professional to perform a COVID-19 test.

A single day of diarrhea led to a mandatory pick-up order from daycare, followed by a trip to the busy mass testing centre and a warning message sent to the rest of the families in his daycare “cohort” that an unidentified kid in the group was going for a virus test.

If Miles was going to return to daycare anytime soon, he needed proof of a negative test.

The lab quickly confirmed he didn’t have the novel coronavirus and life returned to the new normal we were still getting used to.

But it dawned on us that our son, approaching two years old, would likely be back with one of us waiting in the bleachers of the arena for another nose swab.

While this time of year often fuels feelings of hope, anticipation and excitement for a new school year or new routines, the thrill is pacified by the reality of living during a pandemic.

The sneezes, coughs, fevers and episodes of diarrhea, hardly uncommon for toddlers, raise new warning flags during the public health crisis, forcing families to get an all-clear before returning their kids back to the close quarters of daycares sooner than 14 days.

And on that point, fair enough.

We don’t know enough about the coronavirus to back down on the precautions that aim to keep our kids safe when they’re not at home and spending days with people outside our bubbles.

As the Ontario government allows more kids to be in daycares, many families will be deciding if the time is right to send their children back to the facilities.

Returning Miles to daycare at the earliest opportunity wasn’t really our plan. We figured, like I’m sure many parents did, that we would give the daycare a couple weeks to adjust before sending him back.

However, the reality of working full-time jobs from home and being unable to give him the undivided attention he deserves quickly weighed on our minds. In considering Miles’s return to daycare, I was mainly concerned he would be returning to a highly restricted playing environment with a big, impossible focus on staying away from other kids.

Never did it enter my mind that Miles’s presence at daycare would, for the foreseeable future, hinge on bursts of common toddler bugs.

Of course, had I read the health unit’s marching orders to daycare providers more closely, I would have seen right away that children’s attendance could be erratic.

Ottawa Public Health’s directions are clear when it comes to children developing symptoms while in the facility: parents or guardians must pick them up.

And then there’s this helpful bit: “Please be beware that the first symptom of a COVID-19 infection in children can be gastrointestinal, including diarrhea.”

Also included in the watch symptoms: sneezing and a runny nose that can’t be linked to another obvious underlying reason, such as allergies, in addition to coughing, new taste disorders and, listed as an atypical symptom, unexplained or increased number of falls.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the screening protocol should be rolled back. Living with a mysterious, incurable virus is our plight now and we have to embrace risk management. And, our daycare has been (unsurprisingly) top-notch when it comes to screening and daily activities.

But I’m certainly not feeling the usual turn-a-new-page zest that comes with the end of summer, change in weather and line of sight to the year’s end.

Instead, I’m bracing for a season of uncertainty in which a good stretch of clear sinuses and optimum bowel movements could be disturbed by a runny nose or diarrhea, leading us back to the bleachers of Brewer Arena.