It’s the text message I had been dreading. Just seven short days after our 13-year-old son had gone back to school, the diktat was crushing: “There’s a case of Covid in your year …” it read, “your son must now isolate at home for 14 days.”
I re-read the message with disbelief and a helping of that nauseous, out-of-body wretchedness you get when someone’s yanked the rug from under you. Within the flick of a text message, we've been thrown back into daily homeschooling and isolation, at the very moment when we'd clawed back a sliver of 'normality'.
We're not alone. According to official figures, 339 schools have fully or partially closed due to Covid-19 since term began – although the real number must be more, because our school isn't listed. That’s more than 1 in 10 children in the UK not in classes as of last Thursday. Slung into pandemic purgatory. Abandon all rucksacks. Going nowhere.
Second time around, our segregation has been a far harder pill to swallow. It’s a feeling of re-awoken anxiety and helplessness I can only describe as PTLD (that’s Post Traumatic Lockdown Disorder), like some kind of mutant 2020 strain of PTSD to top off the year. Feeling on constant red alert? Check. Sweating and fretting to a reminder of the original traumatic event, with tense muscles and a pounding heart? Check. Flashbacks to the physical fear we all felt as life crashed down back in March? Check.
As well as this new and unwelcome feeling of deja-vu, there’s also the job of trying to police a teenager’s daily school timetable from home, and making it all magically work somehow with a wind-up rural WiFi slower than the passing sheep.
It really is like we're back in April again.
Of course, my first thought after reading that awful text (after 'Oh nooooo') was: can we get a test? But of course, we can’t. Even if we could get a slot at a testing centre, only those with symptoms are now allowed to, despite the fact that asymptomatic carriers can still test positive and pass the virus to others.
I'll be honest: I've tried anyway. Alas, the NHS test-booking system in our area has unhelpfully defaulted to a 'we’re too busy, try later’ page for the past 24 hours.
To compound matters, yesterday Matt Hancock revealed plans to ration swabs, with parents, teachers and children apparently somewhere near the back of the queue. The system is creaking under a backlog of tests and school kids just don't seem to be a priority.
While it makes sense that the most needy get tested first, it hardly reflects well on the Government when thousands of children like mine are sent home from school for two weeks and there's no way back, even though they might be negative. Their schooling has suffered enough, without more wasted weeks.
Earlier this month Matt Hancock condemned it as "unacceptable" for whole schools or large parts of schools, to get tested for coronavirus, but that’s something I really take issue with. Many children, like mine, are at home hunched over laptops – despite not having come into close contact with anyone with Covid – when they should be in school. We’re failing a whole generation of schoolchildren.
In my view everyone should have access to a test regardless of whether they are a key worker or even have symptoms, And the real fear? We’re weeks away from winter and let’s face it, the problem is only going to get worse.
As we hit Day 4 of our unexpected new lockdown, we’re muddling through, trying to juggle our own deadlines around a son attempting to make sense of advanced trigonometry over a fuzzy Zoom link.
If the Government wants to avoid a whole nation coming down with a serious case of PTLD, then alongside NHS workers it’s time to make our children and their teachers a priority too.