A fully vaccinated mom caught COVID-19 after her kids went to summer camp: 'Our kids are Trojan-horsing us'

·6 min read
hilary young in a hat on the beach with her two daughters, 6 and 3.
Hilary Young (right) with her two daughters, who got sick after attending a summer camp. Young and her 6-year-old both tested positive for COVID-19. Courtesy of Hilary Young
  • A fully vaccinated mom tested positive for COVID-19 after a counselor at her daughter's summer camp went home sick with the coronavirus.

  • The mother developed cold-like symptoms, but never had a fever or shortness of breath.

  • "My symptoms seemed exactly like a cold," she said. "Our kids are Trojan-horsing us. They are the way in."

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

After more than a year of careful masking, distancing, and worrying about getting COVID-19, Hilary Young was fully vaccinated with mRNA shots, and ready to have some fun this summer with her family. 

"We were having a hot vax summer, and it got derailed," Young told Insider, after both she and her six-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19. 

Related video: ER doctor explains dos and don'ts for COVID-19 vaccinated people

She suspects their illnesses could be part of a much wider outbreak, one that may have started at a summer camp. Anecdotal data suggests there may be many others like it now that the more infectious Delta variant is around, and few vaccinated people are getting tested for their mild, cold-like symptoms.

"All of us with young kids, that's a huge unvaccinated population," Young said of kids under 12 (who can't yet get vaccinated in the US). "I think our kids are Trojan-horsing us. They are the way in."

She considers her story a cautionary tale about the dangers of COVID-19 spreading among vaccinated adults.

"My worst fear happened, we survived it, and I think that's a direct result of being vaccinated," Young, who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said.  

A trip to the beach, where fully vaccinated adults got sick

Beach houses pictured with sand dunes in Ocean City, New Jersey.
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The illnesses began after Young's daughters attended a summer camp the week before the July 4th weekend.

One of the girls' counselors went home sick early on in the week. It wasn't until Friday that campers and their parents learned she'd tested positive for COVID-19.

By then, it had already been three days, and Young's daughters weren't showing any symptoms, so they went ahead to join extended family at the beach for the holiday. 

"We figured, 'OK, even if the kids are sick, we'll all be fine, it'll be fine, we're all vaccinated,'" she said.

All weekend, her three-year-old was "crazy cranky."

"Lots of meltdowns, lots of tantrums, very tired, but no discernible symptoms," she added. 

By Monday evening, her six-year-old felt fatigued. She later developed a low-grade fever, headache, runny nose, and some nausea.

Some older adults in the beach house started feeling unwell too, with fatigue, and sore throats. 

"There were six [fully] vaccinated adults in the house," Young said. "Four of us felt symptoms." 

Young got a lab test for her six-year-old at a pharmacy, which came back positive for COVID-19.

"We have tried so hard for the last year and a half to keep our kids safe," she said. "I think everyone was very complacent, happy to have their lives back, feeling like this is over."

More like a cold than COVID-19

sinus/cold
Sinus infections last longer than colds, last longer, and require antibiotics. Halfpoint Images/ Getty Images

Young did an at-home BinaxNOW rapid test on herself once she developed symptoms.

"I just started sobbing because it was like, 'oh my God, I have, COVID, I can't believe this happening,'" she said, phoning her doctor.

"I was like, 'what should I do?' And she was like, 'nothing ... you just have to quarantine and you should be fine.'"

For the vaccinated, COVID-19 can appear like a mild illness

Young's symptoms started with a sore throat, then "full-on congestion" and some dizziness. She said she used NyQuil to sleep for about a week, and Tylenol Cold & Sinus to relieve the stuffiness.

"I lost my sense of taste and smell, which is just starting to come back a little bit now," she added, but "I never had chills. I never had any respiratory issues."

"It wasn't that bad for me," Young added, sharing that some of her unvaccinated friends believe her story is another reason why they don't need to get shots. She could not disagree more. 

"I billed out 25 hours to clients last week," the branding consultant said. "Despite not feeling well, I was functioning. I don't think it will be that kind to unvaccinated people." 

What we know about kids and COVID transmission

Though it's hard to know for sure exactly how she and her daughter caught COVID-19, Young says it's not hard to imagine how the pathogen might've traveled from the camp, through the girls, and then to the vaccinated elders in their beach house. 

"I don't know if you have kids, but my kids are just constantly in my face, there's no personal space," she said.

Early research suggests it may be easier to catch COVID-19 from unvaccinated kids now than it was months ago. One Chinese preprint study found the viral load of people with Delta is about 1,000 times higher than earlier versions of the virus. 

Delta "can glom on stronger, and cause infection easier," Dr. Hilary Babcock, medical director of infection prevention at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's Hospitals in Missouri, said. Babcock said some fully vaccinated staff at her hospital are getting infected through their kids, too.

"People who are infected are spreading more virus around them, because they have more virus in their respiratory tract," she added. 

However, the same disease prevention measures many educators adopted last year can still work to crush transmission in the classroom. One recent UK preprint even suggests that daily, rapid testing of students can work just as well as isolation at preventing future spread in schools.

The CDC is 'not going to have the right data'

man in a mask helps a kid roll in an inflatable trampoline during COVID-19 pandemic
Summer camp in Culver City, California on June 14, 2021. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Young wanted to let the CDC know about her breakthrough case, but found there was nowhere to report it to the agency. (The CDC is only keeping close tabs on severe breakthrough cases, those requiring hospitalization.)

"My symptoms seemed exactly like a cold," Young said. "If we hadn't known about my daughter's counselor testing positive, we never would have assumed it was COVID. We never would've gotten tested. And we would have gone out into the world."

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