MOUNT VERNON – Jackson Driver is a man of simple pleasures.
He likes climbing and playing outside in the dirt. He enjoys eating grapes – red, preferably. A new reader, his favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (“he loves to read along with you and tell you all the things the caterpillar ate,” his father, Ben, explained).
Recently, however, he’s had to take a break from his usual activities to deal with something rather unpleasant – something most kids his age don’t have to face: COVID-19.
At 2 years old, Jackson became Knox County’s youngest confirmed case when he tested positive May 15. He is one of the few children in Ohio to have tested positive so far; according to data from the Ohio Department of Health, less than four percent of the state’s confirmed cases have come from those ages 0-19 (data is not broken down further).
Luckily, his father said, he’s “doing great.”
According to Ben, who lives in Mount Vernon with his wife, Katie, their son has been symptom-free since experiencing a 24-hour fever on May 13.
“By the time that we learned he was positive, his symptoms were mostly gone,” Ben said. “I don’t know, I suppose it’s possible for the symptoms to maybe come back. But for us, it’s been really very, very mild.”
The Drivers believe Jackson became infected May 7, when Katie’s stepfather visited from Marion County. While her stepfather was not experiencing symptoms at the time, he ended up testing positive for the novel coronavirus five days later. The next day, May 13, is when Jackson’s fever hit.
“So of course we thought, ‘Well, there’s a high probability that this is COVID-19,’” Ben recalled.
The family doctor recommended they take Jackson to the drive-thru testing clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, because he said Knox Community Hospital’s Urgent Care facility was only testing adults. So the family drove down to Columbus the next day, and after sleeping for most of the hour-long trip, Jackson was awakened, only to have a long white swab stuck deep into his nasal cavity.
“He didn’t appreciate that...” Ben recalled with a laugh. “It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t a big deal. After a few screams and cries, he was fine.”
The results came back the next night: Jackson had COVID-19.
By that time, Jackson had mostly recovered from his 24-hour fever. Knox Public Health began communicating with the family on what to do next: a 14-day self-quarantine since the day Jackson began exhibiting symptoms.
As of Friday, nine days in, none of the other Drivers had fallen ill. Ben seemed surprised by this, given their daily proximity to Jackson.
"He’s 2, so it’s not like he’s in isolation from the rest of the family..." Ben said. "I don’t know if we’re all pretty much in the asymptomatic group or what.”
Normally, when someone tests positive for COVID-19, the health department advises the rest of the family to keep its distance from the infected individual. Physical contact is generally prohibited. That’s difficult for families with an infected 2-year-old, Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller acknowledged.
“They’re obviously going to have close contact…” Miller said. “But what we would tell anyone, we would just ask them to take more precautions. They might want to wear masks and gloves when working with their child. They’ve been living with him, so they’ve already been exposed, and they’re self-quarantining with him now, so I assume they’re going to go about their business except maybe disinfecting surfaces and washing their hands more frequently.
“They’ve been living with this child, performing close care, so they’ve been exposed. And if they don’t become ill, what does it say about their immune systems?”
The Drivers said they’ve tried their best to limit the spread of the virus within the family. They’ve monitored symptoms, taken their own temperatures daily, and have been willing to communicate with the health department if anything changes. For now, though, the family has stayed remarkably symptom-free.
Ben and Katie knew from the beginning that social distancing would be difficult in a household like theirs. Jackson has a 4-year-old sister, Isabella, who is also prone to jumping and climbing and hugging. Ben said they accepted early on that “if we’re gonna get it, we’re gonna get it.”
“We of course try to, in general, have good hygiene and keep things clean and that sort of thing. But when your 2-year-old has a fever, you’re generally holding them in your arms and that kind of thing,” Ben said.
“And when you have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, they’re touching their mouths and their faces and then they come grab your face … So some of it I think is kind of inevitable for him at his age. And so we just said, ‘You know what? Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen.’”
The Drivers are aware of the risks facing young children who become infected with COVID-19. Recent news reports have linked the novel coronavirus to Kawasaki Disease, a rare inflammatory disease that causes blood vessels to become inflamed or swollen throughout the body. This disease mostly affects children who are 5 years old or younger, and it can cause patients to become critically ill.
Ben said family friends have been asking about this, and he and Katie have been looking for preliminary symptoms. So far, he said, nothing has come up.
“It’s talked about a lot,” Ben said of Kawasaki Disease. “But still even there, it’s pretty rare.”
Other than Jackson’s 24-hour fever, life has been relatively stress-free for the Drivers during quarantine. Ben, the minister at Mount Vernon Church of Christ on Newark Road, has been able to conduct his services via Facebook Live (he hopes to begin in-person services again in June, after thoroughly disinfecting the church). Katie was staying home to care for Jackson and Isabella before the pandemic began, so the family has not had to worry about daycare cancellations.
The little ones have certainly been curious. Isabella has wondered why she can’t go to the library, or the playground, or church. Ben and Katie have told her about the coronavirus.
“And when we said, ‘OK, Jackson’s got the coronavirus,’ she said something like, ‘Well, how long does someone have the coronavirus before they die?’” Ben recalled, laughing nervously.
“And so I said, ‘Honey, chances are, he won’t die. You know, a lot of people get the coronavirus and recover and are just fine.’ And obviously that helped a lot.”
Even during the 24-hour window where Jackson had a fever, and the Drivers assumed he had COVID-19, Ben said he and Katie remained calm. They kept things in perspective – the virus has shown to be far more harmful to older adults – and leaned on their faith.
“We weren’t terribly scared or nervous about it. On the practical side of it, we’re all pretty healthy, we’ve all had good immune systems… And I know this is something new and we don’t really know how it will affect people, but we’re kind of like, chances are, it probably will be mild. So far, it’s proved to be,” Ben said.
“Also, as a Christian – a person of faith – there was comfort knowing that at the end of the day, things are gonna be OK. That doesn't mean God will necessarily prevent me or Jackson from getting sick, or God forbid, even from dying. I know that Christians do, of course, suffer that. But I also believe there’s something better for us, even if that were to happen.”
One day, Ben said, he’ll be able to tell Jackson about his brief battle with the coronavirus. For now, though, they’re simply hoping to remain healthy while their quarantine period expires.
“With everyone being healthy and feeling good it’s like, ‘Oh man, I wish we could run to Whit’s and grab some ice cream or something and enjoy it with the family,’” Ben said with a laugh. “But obviously we’ve just gotta stay here and hunker down.”
Katie’s stepfather experienced only mild symptoms from his bout with COVID-19, Ben said, and he’s “pretty much back to normal.” As for Jackson? He’s already resumed some of his favorite hobbies.
On Tuesday, when rain soaked Mount Vernon for hours on end, he and Isabella spent the afternoon stomping around in the puddles. They stomped around so much, Ben said, that water filled his rain boots. They laughed, and smiled, and carried on like siblings do.
Childhood spirit: 1; Coronavirus: 0.