For one Buellton mom, her children's return to the classroom signals hope for some normalcy 17 months after COVID-19 swept through her home, leaving the family still grappling with its effects.
Becky Letts, 41, homeschooled her three children for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year due to a complex set of health challenges spurred by cases of long COVID-19.
"You might think we're crazy to send our kids back to school, but they've been home the whole time," Letts said. "I'm not a teacher — they need actual teachers, and they need the socialization."
Letts had a case of COVID-19 in March 2020, and not long after, three other members of her family fell ill to the disease, including her husband, Edward, sons Alex and Adam, then 8 and 11.
Her daughter, Erin, then 12, did not exhibit symptoms and took charge of managing the household chores for a month while the family recovered, Letts said.
"It's been 17 months since [we] got sick," Letts said. "My husband and Adam got sick after us and we aren't sure if Erin ever got sick or if she was asymptomatic. It's been a very long road as a first wave COVID long-hauler."
COVID-19 long-hauler refers to one who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 syndrome, or long COVID-19. The terms are used to identify those who experience lingering health problems long after they've recovered from the acute phase of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The chronic illness presents itself as a sometimes debilitating but persistent set of physical and neurological symptoms that often include brain fog, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Both Letts and Alex developed COVID-19 syndrome and were subsequently diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a blood circulation disorder characterized by a specific group of symptoms that frequently occur when standing upright and a heart rate increase from horizontal to the standing position.
"In addition, Alex has fragile lungs from COVID lung damage," said Letts, noting that she also suffers from a number of resulting disorders that include mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and fibromyalgia, among others.
Letts' seventh grader, Adam, who is attending Jonata Middle School this year, also suffers from a less severe case of POTS, according to Letts.
"[Alex and Adam] may not be able to do all the things their peers can do," Letts said, "but we at least know how to manage the POTS."
Treating the condition requires ongoing monitoring, Letts said, such as increased daily consumption of sodium and making sure to drink plenty of water each day. Keeping nutrition balanced with fiber, protein, vegetables, dairy and fruits, as well as maintaining physical activity, are also listed as management strategies.
Letts said both Adam's and Erin's first day back at school on Aug. 18 went well, and Alex's first day of fifth grade at Oak Valley Elementary was a good one, where his heart rate stayed within a reasonable zone and he experienced no major issues.
Alex's school has set up a special plan to help accommodate the management of his chronic illnesses, for which, Letts said, she is grateful.
"It might be a hard road for them," Letts said, noting that her children's disabilities can seem invisible to others. "Because it's not one people can see."