close contact

It's not an email any parent wants to receive: its bold, underscored letters and bright yellow highlights; its list of symptoms; its advice to call 911 in case of any serious signs such as confusion, pressure or pain in the chest, blue-gray-tinged skin, lips and nail beds, inability to wake or stay awake.

Yesterday's message came from my son's high school, notifying me that Calvin was identified as a close contact to a Covid-19 case the day before. I don't know if the infected person was a classmate, a therapist, or an aide in his classroom or someone on the bus. Due to privacy concerns, the school nurse can't tell me. What I hope is that the infected person wasn't responsible for feeding Calvin or being with him for the entire day.

I forwarded the email to Michael with a one-word intro—fuck. I'm a bit worried, because while Calvin is fully vaccinated, he hasn't gotten his booster shot yet because, despite his list of comorbidities, especially epilepsy, he isn't old enough and won't be eighteen until February. His second shot was last April, so his immunity has very likely waned. I've kept questioning why he can't—shouldn't?—get a booster yet. Word remains he has to wait.

When I called my friend to cancel our long-overdue plans to bring her and her husband dinner tonight, my voice began to stammer. I was able to hold it together during our conversation, but it was hard to keep my imagination from drifting to little Charlotte Figi, my friend's daughter who was in many ways like Calvin, most notably her relentless and stubborn seizures. Her entire family got Covid-19 in the early months of the pandemic. Everyone recovered except for Charlotte. She was just a teen, a twin, so sweet, mild, innocent and beloved.

I gathered my thoughts, then began writing messages—to Calvin's teacher, to his former aide, Mary, who was going to take care of Calvin while we went to our buddies' house with dinner, to some out-of-town friends—distant relatives, really—who were going to drop in for supper on Friday after not having seen them for years, to four of our favorites who were staging a home invasion for this Sunday, complete with all the dinner fixings save the coffee-Oreo-chocolate-fudge-brownie ice cream cake I was going to make. In each case, and for Calvin's, each other's, and the larger community's sake, we were all going to do Covid-19 rapid tests before gathering. But now that Calvin has been exposed to someone with Covid, the much-needed merrymaking is off the table for at least the next week.

While I understand there's a remote chance Calvin might have been exposed to a vaccinated person with a breakthrough infection, it remains hard not to be frustrated with the maskless and unvaccinated who are inundating our emergency rooms, hospitals and staff; patients are sleeping in the hallways of our local hospital's emergency department due to lack of beds from an influx of mainly-unvaccinated Covid patients. It's hard not to be angry at the reams of Covid mis- and disinformation circulating on social media and enriching bad actors. It's hard not to be aggravated at the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers helping to exacerbate and prolong this public health crisis which has killed over 792,000 Americans and orphaned tens of thousands of children. It's hard to swallow arguments about so-called natural immunity in the face of a novel coronavirus, hard to stomach casual attitudes about getting infected and pretzel logic about achieving herd immunity by means of rampant contagion—both notions which neglect to consider the grave risks posed to the community at large, our healthcare infrastructure, our economy, and the most vulnerable of us. It's hard to tolerate the unwillingness to concede that variants of the virus such as Delta and Omicron—or worse—are more likely to emerge in unvaccinated populations, and that the unvaccinated are more prone to be vectors because they tend to stay sick longer and have worse symptoms than folks who are vaccinated.

With all this vexingly top of mind, I am grateful, if not amazed, that Calvin is so dutiful at wearing a mask despite the fact that he has no concept of why he should. Despite the fact that it gets covered in drool which makes it uncomfortable to wear and extra hard to breathe. Despite the fact it rubs his little chin raw. And nearly two years into this pandemic, it's mighty worrisome and maddening that, as the virus continues to mutate and surge, there are those who still act cavalierly, only thinking of themselves and seemingly unaware that, despite perhaps feeling healthy, the unmasked and/or unvaccinated can still harbor and spread the virus to others without knowing it. It's a twisted notion of freedom when that very freedom comes at the grave expense of others. No one is infallible. We don't live in a bubble. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Do it for your family, your neighbors and your nation.

Photo by Paul Barron


  1. Hoping Calvin doesn't get covid and eventually you guys get to do some of those fun things listed.

  2. Jesus Christ. I got nothing for these people. I hope you weather this. Stay well.

  3. As someone who has many health issues, I am unable to wear a mask or get the vaccine. The one thing that really bothers me is the judgement. Please STOP judging people.

    1. dear anonymous, I am very sorry about the health issues which you say prevent you from wearing a mask or getting a vaccine. the cdc recommends masks for virtually everyone except young children, certain people with disabilities and perhaps those with certain respiratory or heat-related conditions. also, the cdc recommends vaccines for virtually everyone, even those with certain underlying conditions. that said, I do know life is full of nuance, and so I apologize for omitting that nuance, especially if it applies to you. my ire is for people who refuse to mask and get vaccinated based on their politics, the mis- and disinformation they've accepted as truth, or because of some selfish notion of freedom. and while there are plenty of people who are falsely convinced that masks and vaccines are unsafe, yours sounds like it might be an all-together different circumstance. stay safe. take care. thank you for writing.