Leona O'Neill: We need to stay safe, stay strong and give ourselves credit for enduring stressful times

Like many families whose children have returned to school, we've already had our first experience of the Covid testing system – and it's unlikely to be the last– so we need to keep protecting each other, writes Leona O'Neill

We need to keep wearing our masks and washing our hands and keeping our distance from one another

I THINK at this stage, with school being back for nearly a month, most of us parents have had some manner of coronavirus scare in our homes.

Our kids have been cooped up for six months, mostly at home, during the lockdown. Therefore, they have have had little opportunity to catch the germs and bugs which normally get passed around while mixing with their peers and which keep their immune systems ticking over.

So, when school started, it was only a matter of time before most of them came down with some kind of bug or other. And it was no different in our house.

Our kids had been back at school for a grand total of three days when our middle son came down with a bug. As soon as he reported feeling unwell, I took him from school and brought him home. In the hours that followed, he developed a sore throat and a temperature.

In a scene played out in a lot of homes across the north, I was Googling coronavirus symptoms and whether it was appropriate to get him tested. When he developed a dry cough to go along with his temperature and couldn't smell anything, I got on the Public Health website and booked him a coronavirus test.

I thought, the child has been at school, mixing with his friends; if he has it, the school needs to know and we all need to go into isolation.

It took me a few hours to book the test online. The website was throwing up test centres in Scotland, England and the other side of Northern Ireland. The thought of driving my sick son for hours in a car was not a pleasant or welcome one. After a few hours of constantly refreshing the page, I eventually secured a test the next morning at our local test site.

From there, things went very smoothly and efficiently indeed. We arrived at the test centre, where we had to show our appointment notification. We drove to a bay where we were handed a self-test and given clear instructions. We were directed to park in a parking spot and do the test ourselves with all the provided equipment.

My son had to stick an oversized earbud type implement up his nose and then rub it against his tonsils, place it in a supplied test tube half full of liquid and seal it all up. Then we had to hand it back to staff – wielding a litter picker type device through our half closed the window – at the exit. We had his results, thankfully negative, within 24 hours.

While I know that a lot of people have had issues with testing, that was not our experience. But with us all sticking to the rules, clearly our governments have to hold up their side of the bargain and keep on top of the testing, tracking and tracing.

I know that this will not be the last time I, or parents like me, will visit a testing site in the coming months. Flu season is just around the corner. There are so many bugs around that resemble coronavirus and people are rightly terrified. Testing centres will be put under increased pressure. It needs to be able to withstand that.

We have been told for months that this virus is deadly, and that we need to protect ourselves, our family, the NHS, our friends and neighbours. We are sending our children into schools and taking a risk in doing so that they might pick up this virus.

This is a hugely stressful time for us all, trying to get on with normal life; to work, to send our children to school, in the most extraordinary of circumstances. I think we all deserve a little credit for getting ourselves and our children through probably the most surreal and terrifying era in modern history.

We need to keep wearing our masks and washing our hands and keeping our distance from one another. I'll protect you and you protect me. Who knows what lies ahead – a second wave, a petering out of this virus or indeed a vaccine. But what we do know for certain is that we need to keep going, keep moving forward and stay strong.

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