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Grandparents around Tampa Bay risk delta variant to help out

“We stayed away for a while, but it gets to a certain point where it’s just not realistic anymore, you know?” one parent said.
Evan Vilendrer plays a game on a tablet while grandparents Patrice and Dave Marquez care for their daughter’s children, 13 month old Eden and four year old Evan Vilendrer while their parents are at work on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 in Riverview.
Evan Vilendrer plays a game on a tablet while grandparents Patrice and Dave Marquez care for their daughter’s children, 13 month old Eden and four year old Evan Vilendrer while their parents are at work on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 in Riverview. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 25
Updated Sep. 27

Seven patients had tested positive during one of Angie Bryson’s shifts last week. The nurse practitioner didn’t have time to go home and shower or change — she needed to pick up her 2-year-old daughter from her babysitter’s house.

The sitter also happened to be little Adelynn’s grandfather.

Tim Pachla, Bryson’s dad, is 62 and has preexisting conditions that place him at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

It would be another day of pick-up-and-dash.

“I was kind of just trying to just load her in the car and go,” said Bryson, a Brandon resident. “My dad’s high-risk, and my mom’s over 60. It’s great to have them here, because they’ll feed her and I don’t have to worry about anything. But the last thing I want to do is get them infected.”

Bryson and her husband are both employed in the medical field — they work irregular hours and long shifts.

In a moment when it’s increasingly difficult to find and afford quality daycare, many families like theirs depend on grandparents to provide child care.

As Florida has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases in recent months — due to the highly contagious delta variant and the state’s high proportion of unvaccinated people — many Tampa Bay families said this system of support has been upended.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to severe illness from the virus, leaving families to grapple with difficult decisions in an attempt to balance safety with everyday obligations.

Seniors who are vaccinated are far more protected from the virus than their unvaccinated peers. But when serious illnesses do occur in vaccinated people — a rare event — they tend to be among older adults. Eighty-seven percent of deaths due to breakthrough infections have been in people 65 or older, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Cases have begun to fall in the state, but deaths remain on the rise. With the school year underway, grandparents are enduring through risks and uncertainty.

In the early days of the pandemic, Luisa Castaño’s grandmother would shut her bedroom door and stay tucked away when her son Cedar, age 7, came over to do his online schooling each day. For awhile, Castaño avoided bringing him over at all.

Castaño’s mother and grandmother live together in Sarasota — before COVID-19 hit, they took turns helping Castaño and her husband with child care. But Castaño’s grandmother, at 79, has a preexisting lung condition.

“That creates challenges, because it’s not like my grandma is off on her own somewhere,” Castaño said. “She’s naturally going to be exposed to us whenever we come over.”

But ultimately, they had to return to relying on the family-based child care available to them, she said. Both Castaño and her husband work outside the house, often during and beyond regular school hours. Her grandmother grew tired of living in fear, she said, and now again helps to care for Cedar.

“We all kind of made the difficult choice, because if he gets exposed, we don’t know how my grandma is going to react to the virus,” Castaño said. “But there was really no better alternative.”

When the fall academic year started, Cedar returned in a mask, even before his school mandated them.

“We’re taking our own set of precautions and really being vigilant about any symptoms, just for her sake,” said Castaño. “We stayed away from them for a while, but it just gets to a certain point where it’s just not realistic anymore, you know?”

Professional child care is out of reach for many families living in the United States, according to a Department of Treasury report released earlier this month. The average family with a child younger than 5 must spend 13 percent of their annual income on care.

Worker shortages in the day care industry have created long wait lists for many centers, further compounding challenges for parents and guardians in need of care during the pandemic.

Grandparents Patrice and Dave Marquez care for their daughter’s children, 13-month-old Eden and 4-year-old Evan Vilendrer, while their parents are at work on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 in Riverview.
Grandparents Patrice and Dave Marquez care for their daughter’s children, 13-month-old Eden and 4-year-old Evan Vilendrer, while their parents are at work on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 in Riverview. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Stefanie Marquez’s son, Evan, was supposed to start preschool this fall.

But as the delta variant began to spread, the Riverview resident ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

Her mother, Patrice Marquez, is the primary childcare provider for Evan and his 1-year-old sister on week days when Marquez, 39, works long hours as a scientist and researcher in AxoGen.

“Even if he’s not going to get really sick over it, one of us could,” Marquez said. “Both my parents are vaccinated, but I know of people who have gotten hospitalized, even though there were vaccinated. It’s not as common, but that was worrying me.”

Evan will start school next year instead.

Patrice Marquez isn’t too concerned about catching COVID-19. But she understands her daughter’s decision, and is happy to get this time with her grandchildren.

Grandparents like her aren’t the only one who are impacted by the current surge, she said.

“I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to do this,” she said. “But I just want him to experience more socialization with other kids his age — because he doesn’t have that here at home with me and his 1-year-old sister.

“Once he starts school, he is basically going to be thrown into the fire without having previous experience playing with other kids,” Patrice Marquez added.