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Parents of Kids Under Five Stuck in Grueling Covid Limbo


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HOUSTON — Last year, Margaret Schulte and her husband, Jason Abercrombie, traveled 11 hours back and forth to Louisiana from their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hoping to vaccinate their children, ages 2 and 4, against the coronavirus.

The only way they were able to get their children vaccinated – of the more than 19 million Americans under the age of five who do not yet qualify for vaccination – was to participate in a clinical trial. So they signed up, hoping for a successful vaccine that means that by now, or at least very soon, there will be what looks like pre-pandemic life on the horizon.

It doesn’t work that way.

The company said last month that Pfizer’s experiment, in which their children participated, did not produce promising results. Vaccines did not appear from other angles. Moderna has not yet published the results of its pediatric trials.

Now Mrs. Schulte and Mr. Abercrombie are among the millions of parents caught in a painful predicament during a wave of Omicron cases, forced to wrestle with nursery closures and childcare crises as the rest of the world looks eager to move on.

“I’m home with my daughter now,” said Ms Schulte, 41, who owns a garden store and is eight months pregnant when I phoned her this week. There was a positive case in the custody of her two-year-old daughter. “This is the fourth or fifth time they have been quarantined,” she said. “There is no work being done while she is there.”

The near-vertical rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has complicated the calculations for many families with children under five, a population prone to the runny nose and cough that is now raising waves of concern.

The tests are hard to come by. Daycare providers are nervous. According to research from the University of California, Berkeley, there are nearly 110,000 fewer people working in child care now compared to February 2020.

With increasing interruptions in childcare, parents of children once again find themselves trapped at home, staring out of windows, and wondering again whether the world cares about the seemingly impossible-to-balance chores they have to do.

“The stress just comes from seeing that the rest of society has kind of moved on, and then parents of young children and young children themselves seem forgotten,” said Becky Quinn, an attorney in New York. This week, she and her husband found themselves stuck with both children and no childcare in their one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

First we got a notification on Saturday that the baby was closed. Mrs. Quinn said. Then on Sunday we heard that the 3-year-old’s class had closed. I just laughed at that point.”

She and her husband are able to work remotely, a privilege she admitted not everyone has. She said her superiors understand. But it is still difficult.

The convergence of repeated closures of daycare centers and classrooms with the realization that a vaccine for young children may still be several months away has forced many parents to make uncomfortable choices, especially women.

Aria Carter, who lives in rural Vermont, quit her job as a school admissions director due to childcare difficulties. Now she’s reading psychological assessments of admissions, a role she can play at odd hours or while her 1-year-old son and 4-year-old son nap at school.

“I can’t put him in the daycare, there is no place,” Ms Carter said of her young child. “I don’t have any family where I live. It’s hard.” But she added that the prevalence of the Omicron variant meant she wouldn’t feel comfortable putting him in the nursery anyway, and that she enjoyed her time at home with him.

At one point, Shaneka Adewuyi, an office manager with the Tulsa Police Department, said her daycare center was closed for six weeks due to a surge in cases. The challenge of reconciling two young children, ages 1 and 2, along with a 9-year-old in a virtual school, in addition to her job, is enough to bring Mrs. Adewuyi to tears.

“It’s taking a toll on my mental health,” she said. “But babies need to eat, they need to be rocked to sleep, and they also need to change their diapers.”

For some parents, the anomaly of the epidemic began with pregnancies consumed by concern about the effects of infections or vaccinations. Routines have been changed for so long that many of their children have not experienced or can no longer remember what things were like before the life of quarantine and masks.

Mr. Abercrombie, 39, said he was surprised when 4-year-old Andy didn’t want to play with other kids on the playground. “He said they might have the disease,” Mr. Abercrombie recalls. “How is that, to grow up if you think other children might make them sick?”

Vaccines, an essential part of the federal response to the pandemic, have proven to be a hard-to-get right for young children. While vaccines are already available for those 5 and older, parents of children 4 and younger may have to wait months longer to get an effective vaccine.

Even when it is available, many parents may choose not to give it to their young children. Vaccination rates are still very low. Less than 20 percent – Among the younger group, children aged 5-11 years.

Doctors have said that young children are less likely to develop severe illness after contracting the Corona virus than adults. While hospitalizations of children have risen, the overall numbers are still very low.

In Austin, Texas, Kyle and Tasha Countryman count themselves among the lucky ones: They both have busier jobs than ever — construction and furniture sales — and have closed a daycare where they send their kids, ages 1 and 2, some classes Only a few times during the pandemic.

They were very careful when Mrs. Countryman, 36, was pregnant. “None of us want to get sick before I give birth,” she said. Now, she said, her goal is to give children as normal a life as possible. That means seeing family, friends and cousins ​​and getting out to places that don’t require masks.

“We do this so that our children can see the faces of other children,” Ms. Countryman said. “I don’t want to go to some of these enclosed spaces if it’s going to be severe,” Stand here everyone is wearing masks. “These are not places we are actively looking for to spend our time. We will be going to more restaurants, breweries, and activities we can do outside.”

She said she and her husband would not feel comfortable getting a coronavirus vaccine for their children right away, and they want to make sure that any risks of side effects do not outweigh the benefits.

For Ms. Schulte, whose two children were involved in a Pfizer vaccine trial, the promise of a new vaccine has given way to more waiting.

“They actually told us we would need to go back for a third dose because it didn’t generate an adequate immune response,” she said.

“We were hoping by now that we knew one of our children was fully vaccinated and we could move on,” she said. “It could have been great, but the trial is an experience.”

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