Is it COVID-19 or a Cold? Sickness and Anxiety During a Pandemic

Saturday was going off like usual, hanging out at our house as we have done for the past twenty weekends, other than that one out of town trip. We did some yard work, cleaned, played with the kids, watched Disney+; you know the drill. We spent the afternoon enjoying the weather outside cooling down in the blowup pool and sprinklers.

Right around dinner, I noticed my oldest, who is four, had less energy than usual. 

Is it COVID-19 or a Cold? Sickness and Anxiety During a PandemicMy first instinct was to blame it on heat exhaustion and skipping a nap, but I still kept a close eye on her. I laid her down on the couch to rest and recharge her batteries. When dinner was ready, she didn’t want to move without her blanket because she was cold. This was a typical 90+ summer weekend in Iowa, where even I, who was born and raised in the Caribbean,  was feeling the heat.

My alarm bells started going off. Surely enough, her temperature was in the high 99s. Not quite a fever, but definitely higher than her usual 97.6. 

Needless to say, I could hardly sleep that night. She was congested and kept coughing. Her temperature reached 101. I kept Googling every symptom, every possibility, any way I could make her feel better.

Mostly, I was wondering about the possibility of COVID. This definitely looked like a cold, but could I really be sure?

The next morning she was fever-free for the rest of the day. Other than congestion and lower energy, she seemed to be over it. I communicated with daycare for guidance on keeping her home or sending her in. Together we decided that the latter would be fine. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction until I got a call Monday afternoon. Our 9-month old had developed a fever.

As soon as I picked him up, I knew he was not doing well. 

Unlike his sister, his eyes were glossed over and watery and his nose had non-stop drainage. His fever got to 102 that night. He would wake up screaming every thirty minutes. He was so uncomfortable, but his fever had gone down by morning and he slept most of the day. Since he didn’t make any improvements during the day and was so irritable, we decided to take him in to get seen. His regular pediatrician wasn’t seeing sick patients at their location, so they sent me to urgent care. 

We made our appointment and off we went. Mainly, I wanted to rule out something bigger than just a cold and didn’t want him to suffer unnecessarily. Throat looked fine, ears looked fine, could it be? Talking to the doctor, and knowing that some kids at daycare had also been out sick, we ruled it a virus.

But could it be Covid-19? Only a test would be able to tell us. 

So, we went through what we knew. Both my husband and I were perfectly healthy, and COVID tends to affect adults more than kids. Some other kids at daycare were out sick too, so a cold virus seemed very likely. We had not been exposed to anybody with COVID (that we knew of). The test is not the most comfortable thing for a kid. In conclusion, we decided to monitor the cold for the moment and forgo testing. The next day, he was on the up and up and only had a runny nose leftover. This kid had survived his first cold. 

The whole time my kids were sick, I kept thinking of the what-ifs.

Could they have gotten COVID, but we were spared? If it was, where could we have gotten it? Could we possibly spread it to daycare or work and feel responsible for getting others sick? How do you judge if a fever or illness is just a cold and if the same guidelines for sickness pre-COVID apply now? Where do you draw the line between risk and comfort? 

When I previously would have been confident in handling my kids’ illness, this pandemic has made me question every motherly instinct, every decision, every runny nose, and every cough. It left me physically and emotionally exhausted. We’re nearing flu season and schools will open soon. This will not be the only time my kids will get sick this year. Our collective anxiety is higher, stress has taken a toll on our immunity, our energy levels are lower than normal. It’s going to be a very bumpy and unstable ride.

My advice?

Trust your instincts, rely on your support system, openly communicate with your doctor and teachers/daycare providers, err on staying home, and give yourself grace.

Remember that all we can do is our best with the knowledge we currently possess and the energy we currently have.


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Paola, originally from Puerto Rico, came to Iowa to study at Iowa state University where Ryan, an Iowa native, won her heart and they’ve been married for five years. They now call Cedar Rapids home and work as landscape designers in North Liberty. They love watching their toddler, Olivia, grow and are excited to see her as a big sister in the Fall of 2019. Paola's hobbies include crafting, running, yoga, baking and anything handmade. She recently opened Pikosa Creations to share her creativity with the world. Her passions include family, kindness, desserts and vacations to the beach.