An Arizona mom's worst fears came true recently when her 5-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19 just 2 weeks after her school year started, prompting her to urge mask-wearing in classrooms.
Heidi Kim's 5-year-old, Irene, is in kindergarten and her 8-year-old daughter, Rosalind, is in third grade at EduPrize charter school in Queens Creek, Arizona. She homeschooled her daughters during the 2020 school year due to Arizona's high COVID rates and it wasn't until this year when Heidi and her husband made the decision to send Irene and Rosalind back to school.
"I was really nervous about sending them back there, but I had hoped maybe in September they would be eligible for the vaccine," the mom told Good Morning America. "I had hoped it would just be the month and a few extra weeks depending on when it comes."
"I dropped them off at school and I just cried and not because of things that you should normally be feeling when you send your youngest kid off to kindergarten," Heidi added. "I cried because I felt like I was sending her into a petri dish."
The mom noted that although masks were encouraged, there were only 2 other kindergartners wearing masks in her daughter's class. In Rosalind's third-grade class, there was only one other student.
Well, 2 weeks after her first day of school, Heidi noticed Irene was acting out of character. She would fall asleep doing everyday activities and soon she was running a 103 fever. She brought her to get a COVID-19 test and confirmed that the 5-year-old had contracted the virus.
"I'd like to be honest, I'm angry," she explained. "And of course I'm sad. And I feel guilty because I had felt so conflicted about sending her back in the first place. And I never should have had to be in that position."
Since Irene tested positive for COVID-19, Rosalind has also started showing symptoms but has not yet received her results from the PCR test she took at her doctor's office.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reversed its mask guidance and recommended that schools embrace universal masks, backtracking on an earlier recommendation that vaccinated students and staff could go without masks indoors. Several Arizona districts have opted to make masks mandatory.
After going through this with her children, Heidi said she hopes that since schools in her state cannot mandate masks, more parents will put masks on their kids before they head into classrooms:
"It's not hard to wear a mask and it does so much to protect the people around you. I would really encourage parents to put their kids in a mask. And I would really encourage parents if they haven't, to get vaccinated."
Arizona Public Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman weighed in on Arizona's mask guidelines for schools in a statement to ABC News, as per Good Morning America.
"It is heartbreaking to learn of a child being infected with COVID-19. It is equally as frustrating knowing that Arizona public schools have lost the authority to fully implement proven mitigation strategies recommended by public health experts like universal and correct use of masks," Hoffman said. "In June, Governor Ducey signed a law prohibiting schools' ability to implement mask requirements, undercutting local school authority. This action by Governor Ducey and the Legislature was reckless and short-sighted – and will result in more children testing positive for COVID-19."
"I want kids in their classrooms because that is where the best learning happens – and until we are fully on the other side of this pandemic, we must take every necessary precaution to protect student health and safety in those classrooms and ensure minimal disruption to learning," Hoffman continued. "We have serious work ahead of us to help students recover from the last two disrupted school years, all while keeping them safe, and we don't have time for political games."
Well, let's hope Heidi's story encourages other parents to enforce mask-wearing among their own children and family circles.