As cases of highly contagious COVID-19 variants continue to surge in Alberta, more families are finding themselves stuck at home for nearly a month.
The Ayuno family in Ponoka, Alta., found out their six-year-old, Zeia, was exposed to a variant case at school. On March 26, she tested positive for B.1.1.7., the variant first detected in the U.K.
That means her family is legally required to isolate until April 20 — a total of 24 days.
“Because it’s the U.K. variant, (Alberta Health Services) is obviously playing the safe side… We were told it’s very contagious,” Zeia’s father, Arnel Ayuno, told Global News.
Here’s why their quarantine period is so long:
Normally, when someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can relatively safely isolate in their own home by using a separate bedroom and bathroom. But with the variants of concern, the risk of household transmission is higher.
“We know that the new variants are at least 50 per cent more transmissible and they’re leading to more severe outcomes overall,” said Dr. Kirsten Fiest, a University of Calgary epidemiologist.
In Alberta, if you test positive for a variant, AHS will instruct you to isolate for 10 days, away from your household, possibly in a hotel. As soon as you leave your home, the people you live with (your close contacts) can start their 14-day isolation.
But if you can’t leave your home, your close contacts must isolate for your 10 days, then their 14 days.
“If the case remains at home for the full time, they are considered infectious,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Feb. 2.
“Household contacts are considered to be exposed each day that they share that household.”
“That time between when you’re exposed to the virus and when you start to show symptoms might actually be longer for these new variants,” explained Fiest.
“Until we have more solid evidence around the incubation period of the variants of concern, we need to err on the side of caution.”
The Ayunos say AHS advised them to try to isolate Zeia in her own room. That lasted less than a day.
“She wanted to play with her big sister (Zuri) and she wants a hug from us… It’s just like, ‘This is not working. It breaks my heart!'” said Zeia’s mother, Anne.
Arnel jokes his mental health may not survive being stuck in the house with two kids, his wife and his 75-year-old mother for 24 days.
The family is thankful that all three adults in the home have had their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Anne and Arnel are both nurses.
So far only Zeia has tested positive and no one has any symptoms, but everyone will need to be re-tested in mid-April. If that turns up a positive result, quarantine could be even longer.
“It is what it is. Life must go on and we’re just going to spend quantity time — and hopefully quality time — together,” said Arnel.
Family and friends have been dropping off groceries and the girls have been busy doing puzzles and online dance and voice classes.
As health care professionals, Anne and Arnel understand why it’s important to protect their community.
“We have to stick together and be mindful of what we do.”