Why negative tests led to 24 days of quarantine: Our COVID Counselor tackles day care

·2 min read

Welcome to this installment of the COVID Counselor, where we tackle your pandemic problems with thoughtfulness and occasional snark.

Three weeks ago, 4-year-old Ezra Jones tested positive for COVID-19 — a lucky break, in a way.

Ezra’s day care sent him home for 10 days, and he’s already back to class with crayons and glue sticks.

But his younger brother Emerson remains at home after seven negative tests, serving a 24-day quarantine for the virus he never caught.

“I thought it was a typo,” said his mother, Erin Rinn of Raleigh, recalling the day care’s email.

So this week, the COVID Counselor examines day care protocols — the rules that force working parents to attend Zoom meetings with their suits smeared by applesauce fingers.

Emerson Jones, 3, plays at his Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022.
Emerson Jones, 3, plays at his Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022.

The Rinns are juggling two stay-at-home jobs, paying for in-home child care and testing almost daily — for as much as $100 a pop.

And judging from Raleigh Mom chats on Facebook, they have heaps of company in 24-day COVID jail.

“While Emerson was being watched yesterday,” Rinn emailed, “he flushed a toy car down the toilet, which is causing the toilet to overflow and will require a plumber.”

Why 24 days?

Two days after Emerson’s test, his day care sent the 24-day notice, explaining only that it came from the child care health consultant from the Wake County Health Department.

Rinn pointed out that the Centers for the Disease Control suggested far shorter quarantines for exposed, non-symptomatic kids: only 5 days.

Then things got crazier.

Emerson Jones, 3, bends down before jumping to reach the ceiling of his tent at his Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022.
Emerson Jones, 3, bends down before jumping to reach the ceiling of his tent at his Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services put out a new toolkit for day care centers, allowing virus-exposed kids to return after 5 days if they still showed no symptoms.

By this time, Emerson had tested negative multiple times, but the day care told Rinn it was being required to stick to the old 24-day rule as a sort of pandemic legacy clause.

When the COVID Counselor contacted Wake County about this, spokeswoman Stacy Beard said no such legacy rule existed.

Wake’s child health consultant contacted the day care and confirmed the quarantine dates could be adjusted.

But Rinn pointed out a slew of social media contacts also mired in 24-day insanity, and it isn’t clear where the confusion starts and begins.

Did you say 24?

The COVID Counselor called DHHS, where spokeswoman Kelly Haight Connor could not think of how a day care might get to 24-day quarantines under even the state’s strictest and oldest guidelines.

And at any rate, the state’s new toolkit should stand — which would give Emerson not only a completed quarantine but credit for time served.

Emerson Jones, 3, and his mom, Erin Rinn, read a book at the family’s Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022, so his parents are both balancing his care with working from home.
Emerson Jones, 3, and his mom, Erin Rinn, read a book at the family’s Raleigh home on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Jones’ daycare class has been closed since Jan. 4th due to a COVID exposure. Despite multiple negative tests, including seven PCR tests, Jones’ can’t rejoin his class until Feb. 3, 2022, so his parents are both balancing his care with working from home.

But as of Friday morning, Rinn was bracing for another day of juggling meetings with naps, mixing snack times with conference calls and waiting, waiting for the school bell.

Josh Shaffer has been a reporter and columnist for The News & Observer since 2004, covering a variety of topics. He is not a licensed doctor, public health specialist or a therapist.

Got a question? Write him at jshaffer@newsobserver.com. Today’s column was a special exception, but on most days, we’ll just use your first name and hometown.

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