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No Playbook For Mom Who Is Far Away From Her Son Who Has COVID-19


We wanted to tell you a story now about Jennifer Folsom. She was doing her best to prepare her 18-year-old twin sons, Will and Josh, to start life on their own. Both of them moved out a few weeks ago to begin a year of service with AmeriCorps. And then 11 days after they left home, Josh tested positive for coronavirus. And Folsom had to figure out how to support him through the quarantine and isolation process from over a thousand miles away. She spoke to our co-host Noel King.

JENNIFER FOLSOM: We heard from him that he had a little bit of a sore throat, little bit of a headache. You know, that could be all the junk food he was eating or dehydration or altitude sickness being in the Denver area from Virginia. Or it could be COVID. And so they, you know, sent him to isolation for a couple of days. But we actually learned he was COVID positive because he'd gone to the clinic and, you know, bless his heart, you know, barely 18, gave them my phone number, not his own, when he filled out his paperwork.



FOLSOM: So I got a contact tracing call from the clinic and looking for him. But it just went to me. And I get a call from the contact tracer saying, yeah, we do this for everyone who's positive? And I'm like, wait. He's positive? Does he know that? So he didn't even know.

KING: Oh, wow.

FOLSOM: I had to break it to him.

KING: You, ultimately, were the one who told him.

FOLSOM: (Laughter) Yeah, I was, strangely enough. And he was still in bed, you know, two hours behind us? And I'm like, Josh, call Mom. Wake up.

KING: How do you break that news to him without scaring him?

FOLSOM: I don't know. I don't know how to do that. I mean, like, most of parenthood is making stuff up on the go. And I'm finding myself doing that, you know. tenfold right now because no one has ever done this before, not in modern history. There's no playbook for how to approach this. So I just said, hey, you know, it sounds like you're feeling pretty well now. But this is the situation. You're positive. And we need to get a game plan together. But it was a whole day of us coaching him in the background of, like, you need to get your team lead involved. They won't talk to us. You're 18. Like, you need to request a meeting. You need to get folks on the line and get a game plan together for how this is going to go down. He was patient zero on campus.

KING: And so what did you hear from him in those - I assume it was about two weeks that he was in quarantine. Were you getting daily calls about, Mom, I'm bored? Mom, I feel sick. What were you hearing?

FOLSOM: You know, luckily, his physical symptoms were not so bad. But, you know, he is a college-bound cross-country runner. He's a very active young man. And what we realize is even after getting the sort of leadership on board and, you know, them thinking through their policy, their policy did not include a way to get him outside for fresh air or exercise. You know, anyone would go nuts quarantined in an 8-by-10 room by themselves. And, you know, we would sort of - as it progressed, we were getting increasingly manic calls from him, like, Mom, I'm losing my mind. I want to come home. I'm so miserable. I hate this, you know?


FOLSOM: And so as we were able to get him some outside time, it improved.

KING: How is Josh doing now?

FOLSOM: You know what, Noel, he is doing great. We have seen just a tremendous turnaround. He found out last Wednesday afternoon that he was COVID negative, you know, and told his buddy's mom, not me. But, you know, no one's bitter.

KING: Congratulations (laughter).

FOLSOM: And - but then, you know, the powers that be got together and said, we need that written confirmation. We need to see from the clinic the negative test result. It didn't open until 8 a.m. the next day. So (laughter) - and 9 a.m. was his induction ceremony into AmeriCorps and deploying the next day to his first project.


FOLSOM: You know, we were still calling him to wake him up. He slept through the alarm. He slept through his first retest, by the way. So he rushed through, got to his induction ceremony and, the next day, packed up his one duffel bag and headed down to his first sight, which is in, you know, south of Denver building affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity for the next two months. So I think now that he's out in the world and swinging a hammer and seeing that it's all been worth it, you know, he's in a much, much better place.

KING: Jennifer Folsom is author of the book "Ringmaster: Work, Life, And Keeping It All Together." Jennifer, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

FOLSOM: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.