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Started: 2023-05-28 20:46:28

Submitted: 2023-05-28 22:16:23

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COVID-19 finally comes to my household, three-plus years into the global pandemic

For the first three-plus year of the pandemic, my household avoided testing positive for COVID-19. For most of the first year we stayed isolated in the house, working and attending school remotely. Ever so often I'd wake up with a slightly-scratchy throat or the slightest of sniffles and wonder if this was the first sign of an illness to come, but I never got sick, and then I'd attribute the sniffles to seasonal allergies instead. When Julian started in-person kindergarten I started weekly PCR surveillance testing, offered by mail by my employer (because I went into the office more than once every never). I stopped testing when I got my shots, then started home antigen testing when my employer wanted me to do that instead. None of my tests ever came back positive, even as life began to resume and I started doing things like going into the office and eating unmasked at restaurants indoors and flying across the country and going to museums and live music concerts.

We signed up the kids for PCR surveillance testing at school in Santa Cruz, provided by the school district as part of their COVID-19 response. (My impression so far is that Santa Cruz City Schools is big enough to have the capacity to do things like set up testing and vaccination clinics on school campuses, while not being so big that they get bogged down in big city school politics.) The kids went to school in person, full-time, in the fall of 2021, with universal masking and aggressive testing. The masking and testing waned as the vaccines rolled out; by now, though masks are still technically "recommended" that recommendation has some heavy air-quotes around it to the point where my family are just about the only people who mask in any indoor space.

Immediately after school started in fall of 2022 everyone in the family was sick for about six weeks straight with a succession of colds, but no one ever tested positive for COVID-19. We kept the kids at home when they were sick and got them PCR tests to confirm they were well enough to back to school, but it was clear that not everyone had this luxury (otherwise they wouldn't be sending their kids to school while sick and transmitting their viruses to my kid).

Our luck ran out two days after the end of the school year.

Yellow lupine on the bluffs above the beach
Yellow lupine on the bluffs above the beach

Calvin finished eighth grade last week (he's starting high school in the fall!) and to honor the occasion his school held an event on the last day of school that they called, at various times, a graduation or a promotion ceremony. Kiesa's parents flew into town Wednesday night for graduation but as they drove across the mountain to reach our house her father started feeling sick. He isolated when he got to our house, and on Thursday he left for a hotel, and then tested positive for COVID that afternoon. Kiesa's mother stayed with us another day but felt sick Friday morning. Both of her parents left on Friday to drive back to reduce their potential exposure in an airplane. Kiesa's mother tested positive on Friday afternoon.

Waves break on Four Mile Beach
Waves break on Four Mile Beach

We entered Memorial Day weekend under a cloud of uncertainty about our ability to avoid being infected ourselves, given our obvious close contacts. I went for a walk at Four Mile Beach west of Santa Cruz, on one of the tiny pull-outs along the road on highway 1 as it hugs the coast on its way up to San Francisco. (It's by far not the fastest route to San Francisco from Santa Cruz, but it is considerably more scenic than trudging through industrial parks along 101 along the bay.) The beach is a narrow strip of sand in a little cove between sandstone cliffs, and it's apparently a favorite spot for out-of-town surfers.

The first time I visited Four Mile Beach was the day after Julian got a close-contact notification for his classroom exposure to COVID-19.

This part of coastal Santa Cruz County, like much of the county, is characterized by sandstone cliffs towering over narrow beaches, followed by a long flat bench that eventually climbs into the hills that grow into the Santa Cruz Mountains. From Four Mile Beach a trail leads along the top of the cliffs heading east, along the coast heading back towards the city of Santa Cruz. The beach and most of the land across the bench and heading up the hills is part of Wilder Ranch State Park. Most of the land on the top of the bench is leased and farmed with Brussels sprouts. I've seen various anecdotal claims about how much Brussels sprouts are grown here; I've seen statistics like "more than half the country's Brussels sprouts are grown in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties" and "12% of the nation's Brussels sprouts are grown in Wilder Ranch State Park" but I haven't dug up solid statistics to support these numbers. When I've visited the beach late in the year I've seen full-grown Brussels sprouts waiting for harvest; this time I saw tiny seedlings peeking above the ground, while other fields were being fertilized and prepared for planting.

The most impressive plants I saw, though, were the yellow coastal bush lupine in full bloom, with bright yellow flowers growing out of bulky shrubs covering the ground at the top of the cliffs, before the farmers had cleared the ground for planting.

Yellow coastal bush lupine
Yellow coastal bush lupine

A mile down the trail along the top of the bluffs is Three Mile Beach. At low tide I can walk along the narrow strip of rock at the bottom of the cliffs, checking out the tide pools; but on this visit the tide was high enough that I stuck to the high road before dropping down to the beach to eat lunch.

Three-Mile Beach
Three-Mile Beach

When I returned to my car, parked in the narrow dirt lot on the side of highway 1, I got a message from Kiesa that she had tested positive for COVID-19. Our streak was broken; we'd managed to keep the virus at bay for the first three years of the global pandemic, but the invisible pathogen had finally breached our defenses.

I took my own antigen test when I got home and passed. Calvin and I had tested negative, while Kiesa and Julian had tested positive. We set up a quarantine room in the guest room to try to split the clearly-sick members of the household from the not-sick-yet members. (I can't undo my several days of close contact, but I can, maybe, reduce my viral exposure now, which might help if I'm lucky.)

I woke up early this morning with the slightest scratch in my throat and a bit of a sniffle, both of which went away by the middle of the morning, replaced by a bit of a headache, which itself dissipated by the middle of the afternoon. I'm still hoping I can avoid getting infected myself. Hope may not be a great strategy but it's what I have available to me so I'm going to take it.