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Student Takeover: Life living with a key worker

In the latest of our student takeovers featuring work from attendees at Peterborough College, Sade Morgan-Smith finds out the impact living with a key worker can have on a teenager’s life. 
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Sade-Morgan Smith reveals what teenagers who live with key workers have been going through

Hearing the words, “you’re not going back to college tomorrow” was the beginning of the spiral. This was even before the UK went into the first lockdown.

For Peterborough student Emma Jones (not her real name) a lot has changed since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak - shoving clothes in bin bags has become a daily norm for the 17-year-old whose mum is a health worker and witnessed first hand the devastating impact of Covid.

To avoid her own family becoming the next casualties Emma’s mum started a tough hygiene regime.

The routine of refilling hand sanitiser bottles and carrying six face masks in a sandwich bag, “just in case” became Emma’s ‘new normal’. 

She said: “Living with a key worker has been difficult. It's as if you’re living a double life. You plan your every move the night before. You’re reminded of every step you have to take to keep yourself and the rest of your family safe.

“Having your freedom ripped out from under your feet starts to dawn on you.”

Lateral flow tests started arriving at the door as Emma heard stories of victims of coronavirus laying with ventilators attached to them because they can’t breathe.

“The fear and panic of not doing something right by your family is strong enough for you to break down.

“Being too scared to ask for freedom because you want to keep the sanity within your family tears away your innocence.

“Walking around shops and worrying people are looking at all the protection you’re wearing because you know you're leading a different life to others. 

“Anxiety takes over and looking over your shoulder and hearing everyone’s little sniggers under their laughs become louder and louder, then turn around and realise, there's simply no-one there.”

Running errands outside the house felt like a reward to Emma. “Wandering the streets and thinking about when you'll next be able to leave the house again. Days? Weeks? Or even months?”

Emma said the shops aren't the only place you get judged at. “Being laughed at by other health workers just because of the extreme nature of the safety precautions that my mum takes.” 

She added: “The exhausting bit is coming back home to scrub every inch of your skin,” said Emma, “and anything you touched, or there was a chance you did touch. Washing your hands to take your mask off and then washing your hands again is my new daily routine. 

“Raw, dry skin suffocates my hands and I've never seen so many hand cream bottles in the house before.”

The bin bag waiting for Emma’s clothes to be chucked in lays on the bathroom floor before she jumps in the shower to wash away any risk. 

Limiting the family’s stock to only things they can eat with cutlery was another rule adopted because ”using our hands is too much of a risk and an easy way to get infected”. 

Emma said: “I dread to think how many Dettol sprays we've been through.”

Spraying down all of our letters and parcels, cleaning the TV remote, spraying every touched door handle, and coats and bags that have been used for the day.

Not forgetting the pile of disinfectant wipe packets used to clean everything. 

Twice a week Emma experiences the uncomfortable feeling of a swab 4 times on each tonsil and then 10 turns up the nose in each nostril. 

“My eyes tear up,” she said, “and the residue burning sensation left behind makes me force myself to understand that it's worth it. 

“Being scared of the slightest symptom and doing a test just to be sure. The nerves you feel as your stomach churns and you pray you've done enough to keep yourself safe that week.

Love and affection has been limited, according to Emma. “Not wanting to take the risk of just one single hug. The world has changed and nothing is the same. human connection is something that has been affected the most for nearly everybody.”

And has it all been worth it? Emma said: “Treating everyone as if they have coronavirus is the best mindset you can be in to keep yourself safe.”

Although the rules and boundaries are exhausting to manage, fortunately none of Emma’s family has had Coronavirus. So maybe the cautious approach has worked.


Sade Morgan-Smith (18) would like to be a news reporter or magazine publisher. She is a student at Peterborough College, studying on the L3 BTEC in Media and Journalism. To apply for courses at the college, visit: www.peterborough.ac.uk