Editor's Note: Cathy Toland and her daughter, Emily, were interviewed outside of their home using social distancing measures this week.
MILTON — Cathy Toland and her daughter, Emily, believed vigilant mask-wearing and other safety measures would keep them safe from contracting COVID-19 but they were wrong.
"We're not eating out, we're not gathering in large groups. Emily isn't partaking in social outings with friends," said Toland, a sixth-grade science teacher at Milton School District. "Because we were being careful I didn't expect to get it."
They did, however, let their guard down a bit at Thanksgiving when Emily, a 17-year-old senior at Meadowbrook Christian School, was surprised by a visit from her boyfriend, Zac Young, who is serving in the Navy in Jacksonville, Fla.
The last time she'd seen him was just before the pandemic broke in the U.S. in March.
"He got tested prior to coming here. I wasn't worried," said Emily, who has no problem wearing a mask at school all day and doesn't need the occasional "mask breaks" that are offered. When she plays basketball she even wears a mask over a protective face shield she has due to a mouth injury she suffered a few years ago.
So, when the Tolands were invited for Thanksgiving dinner at Young's parent's home in New Columbia, they didn't think twice.
Gary and Veronica Young have been in the pair's "COVID-19 bubble" since both work at Meadowbrook Christian School and have attended Emily's school-related sports events this season, Toland said.
Ten people were at the dinner, including Gary Young's parents, and the Monday after Thanksgiving he complained about not being able to smell. A COVID-19 test came back positive.
Toland was due back in the classroom on Tuesday so she informed a supervisor that she had been with someone four days before they tested positive for the virus.
"I didn't have any symptoms so I went to work," she said.
A couple of days later, on Thursday, Dec. 3, Toland was at work when she received a text from Veronica Young that she also had tested positive for COVID-19.
"I left school as soon as I heard that. I contacted my supervisor and went and got Emily," she said. "I said, 'Let's go get tested,' even though I didn't think we had it."
Toland and her daughter did have COVID-19 and have been in quarantine since learning their diagnosis.
Both said their symptoms have been mild and they had simply thought they were suffering from seasonal allergies.
"None of the symptoms we had are on the chart as being a sign of COVID," said Toland, who is well aware other people are suffering greatly from the virus. "I know people who say they felt like they were dying."
Emily said she had a cough for a few days but simply chalked it off to allergies.
"It's the normal stuff for me with allergies. It's nothing out of the ordinary," she said.
COVID-19 has affected her mother slightly differently.
"My head feels really full and when I breathe through my nose there's a pain like when you inhale water," said Toland, who has also lost her sense of taste and smell. "That's the most annoying symptom."
She's still not certain that she and her daughter contracted the virus at the Young's home since no one else at the dinner has tested positive.
"I'm not sure who passed it on," Toland said.
She's optimistic that her sense of smell and taste will return, but the science teacher decided to do her own experiment by taking a large bite out of raw onion.
"It burned the back of my throat," she said.