Jan. 15 2021 08:00 AM

My family made the best out of a contagious situation.

On January 5, 2020, my friends and I were on our way to spend 10 days in China with the Cornell University Dairy Fellows program. On January 15, 2020, we arrived back in the U.S. to news of a novel coronavirus that was spreading rapidly in the country we had just left.

On January 6, 2021, with a dash of pure irony, my family and I tested positive for COVID-19, and we are spending the corresponding 10 days in isolation together. Unlike a lot of people who contracted this disease in the past year, we own and operate a dairy farm and have a lot of day-to-day responsibility. That meant that despite our illness, we still had to go to work. COVID is not our secret shame, and the journalist in me wants to write about it, rather than stigmatize it.

The first thing we did when my dad started showing symptoms was to notify all our employees and switch our schedules around so that, when we did go to the barn, no one else was there. This is no simple task on a dairy, where there are a thousand things going on at once. We all tested positive, yet we covered two milking shifts and my parents have had to go to work every day.

In the end, none of us were asymptomatic. We all had a cough, some worse than others. Walking back and forth from one end of the parlor to another was enough to take my breath away, and I’m a healthy 21-year-old. Most of us lost our sense of taste and smell, and they have yet to return. The headache was persistent and deafening, as were the muscle aches. But, as I write this on day eight, all of us are recovering well, unlike so many who have lost their lives this year.

Honestly, one of the hardest and simultaneously one of the best things about this quarantine was the tremendous amount of family time. I live in a small house with my two parents, three younger siblings, and a single bathroom. Talk about close quarters.

We normally spend a lot of time together, but to say that the inability to leave the house made things more trying would be an understatement. Suddenly, we were quite literally within arm’s reach of each other, 24 hours of the day, even more than we were during the strictest period of lockdown — when we all at least felt well enough to go outside and could work most of the day.

One of the most comical, and perhaps most farm-family conversations we had to have was on the first day when we were trying to determine which of us had fevers. We could only find a single thermometer, and there was some uncertainty as to whether or not it had come from the barn.

I woke up that morning to the phrase, “How certain are we that this thermometer has not been in a cow’s rectum?”

“Well, I’m 100% certain that we can wash it with soap and water,” my dad replied.

This quarantine was, in some ways, a blessing, though an unfortunate one that we tried very hard to avoid. I haven’t spent this much consecutive time with my family in years, and I can now say with confidence that I know all of my siblings and parents very well. My brothers have been learning to ride the unicycle, and our dogs have never been happier with the amount of attention they get.

A little bit of humor can do wonders to brighten a gloomy situation. We’ve had a lot of really fun moments throughout the past 10 days, and some not-so-funny moments that I’m grateful to have gotten through. We are all going into 2021 with immense gratitude, unanticipated antibodies, and tremendous hope for the year to come.

Abbie Cox
Abbie Cox grew up in Cato, N.Y. on a first-generation dairy farm and currently attends Cornell University as a member of the class of 2021, majoring in ani-mal science with a minor in education and a focus in dairy. On campus, she is involved with the Cornell University Dairy Science Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and is a Peer Adviser with CALS Student Services. Cox has interned with the MILC group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and was the 2020 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial in-tern.