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Kids with COVID might be rarer, but they're in Denton

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Five-year-old Noah Flores started feeling sick in late August, and his relatively minor symptoms quickly took a sharp turn.

He’s one of hundreds of Denton County children who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the school year began roughly three weeks ago, and he joined Texas’ recent surge in pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations, as reported by The Texas Tribune.

He tested positive for the virus on Aug. 24 and later spent a night in a hospital.

Noah is one of the more than 7,000 Denton County children under the age of 12 who have tested positive for the coronavirus, a sometimes-overlooked minority that’s growing in size.

“He started sneezing,” said his mother, Catherine Coley-Flores. “He was lethargic, and then from there he kind of went downhill.”

The family got Noah tested for the virus using a rapid test, but he tested negative the first time.

Noah developed a fever and developed a cough. His second test for the coronavirus came back positive, and he went into isolation. That’s when the sore throat, vomiting and most every other symptom came to the surface, his mother said.

She took him to the hospital after noticing he was dehydrated. Workers got him hydrated, but he was in the hospital from 1 a.m. until nearly noon the next day.

“Once he got hydrated, he was more willing to drink and eat, and he’s actually out of quarantine as of yesterday,” Coley-Flores said Friday morning.

Despite that, Noah is still feeling under the weather, and his new freedom is limited to the house for the time being.

His mother developed symptoms of her own roughly three days after her son, and she remained in isolation when reached by phone Friday.

Noah had started his first year of school as a kindergartner at Krum ISD’s Early Education Center just a couple of weeks before Coley-Flores suspects he picked up the virus from another student in his class.

A notice to parents went out after Noah had tested positive to let them know about another student’s positive test results.

“Honestly, I don’t know if [Noah is] going back to school because of how badly this affected him,” Coley-Flores said.

Statistics available through Denton County Public Health show a rapid increase in the number of pediatric coronavirus cases beginning the week of July 11.

From that week until the week of Aug. 15, the latest week with available data, the number of Denton County residents under age 20 with COVID-19 increased more than fourfold.

Coley-Flores’ younger son, 4-year-old Samuel, and husband, Daniel, have so far avoided getting sick. She said her husband has been quarantining with Samuel in another part of their home and bringing her and Noah food and drinks while wearing a mask and gloves.

Her mother has also helped by bringing along medicine and dropping them off on the porch. She said she’s thankful for the support network she had to rely on, and her heart goes out to those who aren’t as fortunate.

“To watch your baby lay in the hospital bed and cry because he’s hurting so badly ... and there’s nothing you can do, it terrified me,” Coley-Flores said.

Noah and his family are hardly alone. The Texas Department of State Health Services on Thursday reported there were 105 children actively hospitalized with COVID-19 across Trauma Service Area E, which includes Denton and 18 surrounding counties.

The department concurrently reported 81 pediatric intensive care unit beds were available across the entire state.

Denton County Public Health does not include pediatric hospitalizations in its daily reports, but it had reported only one available adult ICU bed in the entire county by Friday afternoon, when the county’s total inpatient occupancy was at 90.4%.

The state had confirmed 64 Texans under the age of 20 had died of COVID-19 by Thursday afternoon, zero of whom lived in Denton County.

Even in Denton County, the Coley-Flores family is far from alone in their situation. Joann Machuca said both she and her 9-year-old son have tested positive for the coronavirus twice over several months.

Machuca, a single mother living with her son and daughter in Denton, preferred not to disclose her children’s names.

She said she took her son to their doctor three or four times, but neither of them had to be hospitalized.

“Once you go in the hospital, you don’t even know if you’re coming back out,” she said.

Unlike Coley-Flores, who would like more safety measures in Krum ISD but thinks the situation is complicated, Machuca was heavily critical of Denton ISD’s handling of the pandemic this year.

She said it feels like the district isn’t paying attention to how bad this virus is, and she’s worried about how many infections have been confirmed on Denton campuses so far this school year.

As of Aug. 27, eight students and one staffer at Newton Rayzor Elementary, her son’s school, had tested positive for the virus. The same was true for four students and one staffer at Calhoun Middle School, which is the campus her daughter attends.

Machuca argued that school district officials wouldn’t be so lax in their pandemic protocols if adults themselves weren’t vaccinated right now.

Jennifer McAlister, whose daughter has been diagnosed as a COVID-19 long-hauler, was more complimentary of Denton ISD’s efforts when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines long-haulers as people who experience symptoms of the disease at least four weeks after their infection. The condition is also described as long COVID, post-acute COVID-19, long-term effects of COVID or chronic COVID.

McAlister’s daughter Maddie, one of three 15-year-old triplets, caught the coronavirus from her sister, who went to a Halloween party this past year.

“We let our guard down,” McAlister said.

Maddie and her sister both tested positive for the virus, but only Maddie developed symptoms.

McAlister remembers those early days late last year as a time when her daughters lived in their bedrooms and sprayed down their bathroom after each use.

This past school year made it easier on them because McAlister and her husband, Cassius, both work from home, and Denton ISD was still operating a widespread virtual learning program.

That allowed Maddie to keep up with classes on her own time.

“Maddie was never hospitalized — she never had serious lung issues,” her mother said.

Despite that, the long-term effects started after Maddie returned to class at Denton High School thinking she’d recovered. Her mom said the physical stress of being out of bed and moving around was enough to cause chronic fatigue.

She remembers her daughter getting home from school and immediately going to sleep for two or three hours, eating dinner and going back to sleep through the night.

Denton ISD has a virtual learning option for students through the eighth grade, but nothing for students as old as Maddie. Despite that, McAlister said the district has worked well around Maddie’s new needs.

She isn’t able to compete on the same level on the school’s swim team, but she’s keeping up in classes thanks to understanding teachers.

One of the harder issues they’ve faced is a general misunderstanding around what it means to suffer from the effects of COVID-19 long term. McAlister recalled another mother looking shocked when she learned that Maddie had still not recovered — she thought the family might still be contagious.

Ultimately, she said Maddie just wants people to know, “I’m normal, I’m not the only one going through this.”

They hadn’t managed to find an age-specific support group for her yet, but McAlister said Thursday that she was hopeful.

She said they wished people could be less judgmental and more willing to learn about the issues facing a growing community of Americans.

Speaking Thursday about the disinformation and misinformation circulating about the pandemic, McAlister mused aloud that “it would have been interesting to see how the Spanish flu would have worked in the age of social media.”

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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