Like most people, I was cautiously looking forward to June – marking a bit of a turning point after the longest of winters. It had been a challenging first half of the year juggling family and work life with ever-changing lockdown restrictions, but things were starting to get easier.
My NHS worker pals were working on Covid-free wards once more. The official restrictions were easing. My seven-year-old was back at Cubs, my three-year-old had finally started swimming lessons. And my favourite music festivals were starting to confirm dates and line-ups.
I’d also had my first dose of the vaccine, as had my husband. I started to relax a bit, my husband lost his gran to Covid very early on in the pandemic in a care home outbreak, but our immediate family had gotten this far without contracting the virus. And now we were over 60% protected. We were on the home straigt. Or so I thought.
My eldest was preparing for four Cubs away days, including a trip to Legoland, and I was taking my youngest to his gran’s in Bournemouth. Things felt kind of normal but there was a threat waiting in the wings. As I set off on the Saturday morning (29 May), my eldest complained of a headache. I put it down to dehydration and the hot weather, so gave him a bottle of water, said goodbye and left him in the capable hands of his dad before setting off to Dorset.
Before I could get out of the city limits, I got a text from my son’s school saying a child in his class had tested positive for Covid-19. I turned around and headed straight back. We booked a PCR test and within 24 hours learned that our son also had Covid. My son’s school was among around a dozen in Bristol that are understood to have been affected with outbreaks, with some cases confirmed as the Delta variant first identified in India.
My husband and I got tested too. He had it, I did not. We’d all need to isolate for 10 days. I spent the next few days caring for two Covid patients and a toddler. The infectious two confined to one room each – windows wide open, meals and painkillers left at the door by a masked mum, relentless handwashing.
But midway through isolation, I got a headache and tested positive. We learned that more families from the school had tested positive – with at least a dozen affected – and that the outbreak was centred around my son’s year. His wasn’t the only school hit, with at least 16 schools in the city managing outbreaks at the moment.
It now appears that, perhaps predictably given the lack of measures in place to prevent transmission, that the Delta variant is spreading rapidly through England’s schools – Covid outbreaks in schools have now reached their highest level since December after a 78% surge in the last week of term.
The Delta variant of concern is now the most dominant variant in the UK – and is 40% more transmissible. A recent study found that the Pfizer vaccine produces fewer antibodies to protect against the Delta variant, but health secretary Matt Hancock said last week that the government is confident that two vaccine doses provide the same protection as against the old variant. The Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for children aged 12 to 15, prompting calls by school leaders to give pupils jabs as a matter of priority.
As my Instagram feed filled with photos of people hugging their mates in bars, staying with family hundreds of miles away, or even at gigs with hundreds of people, it felt really perverse. Covid hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s here. Hiding in plain sight until it’s no longer hidden and you fall ill. Sure, the rates aren’t currently as high as they have been, but it’s still out there spreading between kids, colleagues, friends and family – especially among school-aged children and their parents – and we can’t just ‘get back to normal’.
While the timing of the outbreaks feels unfortunate to those stuck inside for a sunny half-term, the happy accident meant it could act as a firebreak to stop further transmission in the classrooms and playgrounds. Schools are back now and cases are expected to rise.
My son’s school, concerned that many of those children who tested positive were asymptomatic, is now encouraging all families to get lateral flow tests and test their children twice a week; they’ve stepped up their efforts to restrict the spread again, reverting to measures that were in place at the height if the pandemic but which started to ease with the wider restrictions last month.
With the vaccine rollout and the government ploughing ahead with its roadmap regardless, we’ve been lured into a false sense of security. But I know, sadly first-hand, that there’s a contagious variant spreading among families in the city and can see a potential third wave on the horizon.
Laura Williams is a Bristol Cable director and freelance journalist.