What Happens If Your Family Gets COVID-19? Cleo Experts Share Their Experiences

We asked two of our Family Guides to share what surprised them about illness and how they managed to tackle childcare and dealing with sickness at the same time.

At Cleo, our Family Guides work around the world to support working families — and they’re often parents, too. Aubrey Richardson and Sasha Romary are two Cleo Family Guides who have encountered COVID-19 directly in their families. We asked them to share what surprised them about illness and how they managed to tackle childcare and dealing with sickness at the same time. Read on for their stories, and for more detailed information on symptoms and how to protect your family, visit the CDC’s latest guidance on COVID-19.

Aubrey Richardson, Barsac, France

Aubrey lives in a French wine country village of about 2,000 people, 40 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Bordeaux. She is a Cleo Family Guide, a Registered Nurse and a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and supports mostly French and European families. Her son became sick with what was presumed to be COVID-19 after being exposed through his daycare. Here is Aubrey’s first-hand experience with this:

The Symptoms

Who exactly in your family became sick?

Aubrey and son

My 14-month-old son, Lee. He had had a case of pneumonia a few weeks prior and again started to have a fever, wheezing, runny nose, and cough. I brought him to the doctor, since I was worried he might have pneumonia again or that he could have COVID19.

The doctor told me to keep monitoring and if his breathing got worse to bring him to the hospital. Two days later, I received a text from one of the daycare workers where Lee attends saying that her 2-year-old daughter, who is also cared for there, had tested positive for COVID-19. That night when putting Lee to bed, his wheezing got worse. We went to the nearest children’s hospital, 25 miles away. Only one parent was allowed to stay with him. Before going in, we had to wait outside and then were led through an unlit parking lot to an area that had been transformed for COVID-19 patients.

Lee was given an albuterol treatment. He did better after this, and we were allowed to leave. After we got home, he had a fever for 6 days straight, wheezing for 4 days straight, and a runny nose and cough for about 10 days. Today, marked the 2-week mark and he is still exhausted from the ordeal, needing to nap frequently. Almost every child in the daycare has gotten sick during this time.

Around the same time my son had his pneumonia, I experienced a slight fever and muscle aches one night and a sore throat that lasted about 10 days, which required antibiotic treatment. I am not sure if this is related or not. My husband also experienced muscle aches about a week later.

Were you tested?

They do not test children or adults here in France unless they need hospitalization, as tests are expensive and they don’t have enough. (The daycare worker’s child has kidney disease and is therefore immunocompromised which was why she was tested).

Did anything surprise you?

I had previously heard that COVID only affected health-compromised elderly. This was not true in my case and the case of most families in our daycare. I was also surprised at how long the virus lasts, the fact that 2 weeks in my child is still exhausted. Plus, having a fever for 6 straight days is pretty intense.

Do you think it’s possible to contain it within a family, i.e. not pass it to everyone?

I think it would be extremely difficult not to pass it to someone in your house, especially a child who thrives on love, cuddles, and kisses. Withholding that might be more detrimental than the virus itself. We haven’t had to come in contact with anyone less than a few meters away, have had almost everything delivered, or picked up using precautions so I do think that is the best way to avoid spreading the virus. In 2 weeks we have left the house twice to go pick up groceries that had been previously ordered and paid for.

Caring for Children

How did you manage childcare?

I was fortunate to not get too many symptoms myself. I had a coworker cover for me the day after we were in the hospital which allowed me to get my bearings and I know I could have had more support if needed. In the moments where it felt difficult supporting other families while stressed and worried for my own, I would breathe and revisit the conversation when I was in a better head space.

What advice would you give other families who may come down with or experience an exposure to COVID-19?

I recommend having a bag ready to head to the hospital just in case, whatever that may mean for you. For my 14 month old it was a change of clothes, milk, food, snacks, toys, insurance information, credit card, diapers and wipes. This way, (God-forbid) your child begins having difficulty breathing you won’t need to run around looking for stuff.

What’s Ahead

Are you still sheltering in pace/isolating?

Yes, we are required to by the government and it is projected to last at least 45 days.

How has this impacted your family?

My mother was supposed to visit me in April. My husband is French, but I am American and all my family lives stateside and yearns to spend time with their first grandchild and so this is no longer happening. Rumors had also spread through my small town that my son and I both tested positive (untrue) and that I potentially got COVID on a trip to the US in December, but mostly these rumors were to point fingers that I was “patient zero” in the tiny village where we live. I haven’t been able to clear this one up yet, though it did feel hurtful on top of everything else.

Sasha Romary, Munich, Germany

Sasha is a postpartum doula, sleep consultant, and head of the sleep team at Cleo. Her four-year-old son had mild COVID-19 symptoms, while she and her husband experienced stronger symptoms like shortness of breath. Here is her story:

The Symptoms

Do you know how you were exposed?

We don’t. My husband was taking public transportation to work and works in a large office building of 1000+ people. My kids were in school and playing on playgrounds up until that Friday, so it could have been anywhere!

Who exactly in your family became sick?

Me, my husband, and my 4 year old.

How did the symptoms start?

It started with a head cold and then onto the fever, chills, headache, and shortness of breath. In retrospect, both my husband and I had some mild stomach issues the week before.

Were you tested?

We never were. We were low priority, and no one ever called us back to get tested.

Did anything surprise you?

The shortness of breath was a real struggle. It felt like I was in extremely high altitude with a dull pain when I tried to breathe in fully. I was also shocked at how difficult it was to reach someone and how we were brushed off as not a priority.

Were you able to isolate within your home?

We are going on 12 days now of not leaving our apartment. I have taken the boys out to the courtyard of our building a few times to play with bubbles or kick a ball, but otherwise we have not left the walls of our apartment for 2 weeks now.

Do you think it’s possible to contain it within a family, i.e. not pass it to everyone?

This is so challenging, especially with kids. They cuddle, share germs, put everything in their mouths. Given that we probably were exposed much earlier than when we actually showed symptoms and were unaware, I think it would have been pretty impossible in our case. We have a small apartment, and there would not be a way to isolate one person from the rest of the family.

What would you want other families to know about isolation?

It takes a mental toll at the beginning but after the first week or so, you adjust and it slowly gets easier. Lean on each other for support, call family members, take 10-minute breaks to breathe and find your center. It is hard but after the first initial adjustment, it becomes the new norm.

Caring for Children

How did you manage childcare while sick?

We took shifts as much as possible. That first day was a challenge and some shifts were only 10-15 minutes before we needed to tap out. After that, my husband could watch the kids for 1-2 hours, and we had a bit more balance.

What advice would you give other families who may come down with or experience an exposure to coronavirus?

Lean on each other. Throw whatever parenting rules you have out the window! The TV babysitter or an extra bubble bath for the kids are totally OK. Whatever you guys need to get through this and give yourselves a bit of a rest.

What’s Ahead

How are you dealing with the mental and emotional toll?

This was the hardest part for me. I am thankful that my kids were not showing severe symptoms, however they are active kids and we live in a small apartment with no outdoor space. Being stuck inside has been really hard on them and us as parents. They are used to being in daycare with friends and activities 7 hours per day and I know I am a much better parent when I have that time for myself as well.

There were definite parenting moments that I am not proud of and a real feeling of claustrophobia. It has been a huge comfort talking to friends all over the world who are feeling and going through the same. Prioritizing self-care and quiet moments to myself have been invaluable. Giving a structure and loose schedule to our day as well as just being kind to each other and lenient with the kids has helped keep us sane!

Are you still sheltering in pace and isolating?

Since we started our quarantine, Munich has entered a full lockdown. We are only allowed to leave for essential items.

How has this impacted your family?

We have both the privilege and responsibility of spending this time with our kids. The days are long and challenging, but we have also witnessed my older son learning how to write his name for the first time, potty training my younger one and huge leaps in language development and fine motor skills with them both. This has been a hard time for us all but also filled with beautiful moments that remind us how to connect, communicate and grow as a family.

Cleo aims to give the most accurate information about COVID-19, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since this story was published. For the latest information, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.