For almost two years, Woodway residents Melissa and Jody Copp have had one mission: to keep their two boys, Lawson, 9, and Calan, 13, as safe as possible from COVID-19.
With the recent spike in cases, they have continued to advocate for people, like their children, who have compromised immune systems and are limited by the pandemic to a greater extent because they are at the highest risk for serious outcomes from an infection. They urge community members to do whatever they can to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, and to keep the vulnerable in mind when making decisions, in hopes they can rejoin the community more fully.
“If there is even a small chance that you can prevent and provide a better quality life for the vulnerable, to me that is a no-brainer,” Melissa Copp said. “We understand that people make a decision based on principle versus an understanding of the vulnerable and their quality of life. But that is why we are voicing this conversation because we don’t want to leave the vulnerable out of the conversation.”
Calan and Lawson were both born with an extremely rare disease that causes developmental delay and affects the mitochondria, which produce the energy for cells in the body. There are only a few known cases in the United States, and no cure is available.
“If they were to get a virus like COVID or the delta virus, it would instantly be hospitalization or risk of death,” Melissa Copp said. “We would definitely immediately need to be under observation at the hospital.”
After a hospitalization in 2015 for the H1N1 flu, known as swine flu, they know it could be life or death.
Before the pandemic, the family had their routine of preventive care, including vaccines, and other preventive measures, but they were able to be active in the community, in part through their Raising Wheels Foundation.
Now, they are back in quarantine.
They started quarantining in March 2020 and did not travel, taking as many precautions in their daily life as possible.
“When the pandemic for COVID came about, we did not even hesitate,” Melissa Copp said. “If there was a protocol to prevent illness, we were going to do that based on our past.”
Those protocols are now familiar. Masking, social distancing and vaccinations are all precautionary methods the Copps use to keep their children alive.
While the family had planned for Lawson and Calan to return to Midway schools for in-person learning this fall, their critical care team strongly urged them against it. Midway had no masking or social distancing guidelines, despite spread of the delta virus on the rise.
Jody Copp said while the family was excited to return to school, they contacted the district and applied for homebound learning.
“We knew it was the right decision especially after, when school started and we started to see the cases rise, and they still are,” Jody Copp said. “And they still are. They are kind of up and up.”
There are 76 students in Midway Independent School District participating in Midway Virtual School, the district’s remote instruction option, and nine more are slated to join the program this week, district spokesperson Traci Marlin said.
In addition to staying away from in-person school, the Copps have also limited interactions with friends and extended family.
“To me that is a sacrifice,” Melissa Copp said. “We have to sacrifice their social interactions and they’re missing out on school functions in order to keep them alive, but we know that there are things that people can do to limit contact and there are various protocols in place that will allow us to go back into the real world and interact with people again and we hope that comes soon, for their sake.”
Masking and social distancing are two of the simplest ways they urge the community to help in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in hopes that they will be able to rejoin the community in activities.
“Honestly, to me it seems like the simplest thing,” Jody Copp said. “If you have an aversion to masking, if you have an allergy or breathing difficulty that is understandable but it seems like a simple thing to do to protect others.”
Masks have become a flashpoint in political debates over COVID-19, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has forbidden public schools from requiring masks. Locally, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Midway, Waco, La Vega and McGregor school districts over mask policies, though Midway officials have said they only had a nonbinding and temporary “directive” for masks at one school, and McGregor officials have said their mask requirement has not been enforced.
The Copps are not alone in pushing the message of keeping the vulnerable in mind during the pandemic.
Dr. Ben Wilson, assistant chief medical officer for Waco Family Medicine, said people with compromised immune systems are both at greater risk of contacting the virus, and if they are infected, at greater risk of a poor outcome, which could include hospitalization, prolonged symptoms or even death.
Wilson said he encourages everyone eligible to get vaccinated, including immunocompromised people, and to get vaccine boosters when they are available. Mask use is also important to keep people at higher risk safe, he said.
“It is important for all of us to get vaccinated to provide a cocoon of immunity around them,” Wilson said.
While the Copps do not preach vaccine mandates for all, all eligible Copp family members are vaccinated on recommendations from their health care providers.
“When it came to this, it was a no-brainer for me,” Jody Copp said. “I think that vaccines work. You can think what you want politically but luckily it was there and it was there quick enough.”
Seeing COVID-19 as a community issue, Jody Copp said politicizing the virus has made it harder for everyone to come together to eradicate it.
“This was the political virus and in more ways than one it has tainted so many discussions that probably could have been had that would have led to a more thoughtful medical outcome rather than pointing fingers,” he said.
Melissa Copp said her own personal beliefs do not add up to much when weighed against the value of her children’s lives.
“This is a spreadable infectious disease. … We can’t control any of those things, so I am only hopeful that masking stays and that vaccinations are still promoted and anything else that shows what we can do to prevent this from happening, and science and facts, is how we base our decisions,” Melissa Copp said. “I have to put my beliefs, whatever they are, aside, because I want their quality of life to be equal as anyone else’s.”
With the introduction of vaccinations, the family had strong hopes of returning to the kinds of interactions they miss.
“I was excited for people. I was excited for our boys because what that meant for us was to maybe join the community again like before,” Melissa Copp said. “Life will never be the same but it gave me hope that it would one day.”
While some people opposing vaccinations and masking have used the term “living in fear” to address those who participate in precautionary measures, Melissa Copp said her motto is “living with no regrets.”
“I’ve only known one type of parenting style which is giving them the best quality of life, protecting them at all cost,” Melissa Copp said.
Jody and Melissa Copp said they hope the conversation about masking, vaccines and other preventive measures does not leave out families like theirs.
“We are more strong advocates for the vulnerable. Just take steps that you can that you are comfortable with to look beyond yourself and help protect the community,” Jody Copp said.
He said he encourages people to remember that many others are in a similar position as his family.
“This pandemic is bigger than ourselves. It involved the community coming together to do something,” Melissa Copp said. “I cannot protect them 100%. There are reasonable risks to get them out. There are things that have to be done and I am only hopeful the community will come together to get that done.”