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Foster family overlooks risk and opens home to COVID-positive baby

“We were OK with us getting COVID more so than him not being loved,” said foster dad Jacob Simmons.

TERRELL, Texas — Note:  This story was updated on 10/20 at 9:42 p.m. with new data from the state of Texas.

Jacob and Leah Simmons had been hoping to get the call. It had been several months since their last foster child left their care and they were ready for another.

When the foster agency’s caller ID showed up on Leah's cell phone, they couldn’t contain their excitement.

A three-month-old little boy was in emergency need of a home.

“They said he was from quite a ways away. He was tiny and, for the most part, no one else would take him so we immediately said yes,” Leah recalled.

When she hung up, a few nerves set in, because the baby they agreed to take in had COVID-19.

“I took a step back and I had like 15 minutes of heart palpitations,” Leah said.

The placement happened in July, when cases of the coronavirus were surging across Texas.

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Leah said her nerves were more about logistics – worrying how they’d isolate the baby to keep their 2-year-old daughter from catching the virus.

Within 24 hours, the baby was theirs. And they quickly devised a plan that worked.

“We decided from the get-go that Jake would be the main caregiver,” Leah said.

Credit: Simmons Family

Leah stayed downstairs in their Terrell home to focus on their daughter. Jacob isolated upstairs for two weeks with the baby they called "Little Man."

“Fourteen days went by really fast,” Jacob said.

Behind the masks he constantly wore was a constant smile.

“It was a lot of fun getting to hold him,” Jacob said. “I’m not so much of a worrier. I just kind of did it.”

He would wash bottles upstairs and before he ever ventured downstairs he changed his clothes and showered.

The Simmons say they wore masks in their home nonstop, washed their hands constantly, and took great care with laundry.

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Jacob closely monitored the baby’s symptoms, which remained mild.

But every cough or sniffle was noted, and Jacob took the boy’s temperature every time he changed his diaper.

No one else in the family caught the virus. 

"So, something worked," Leah said. 

The state of Texas provided additional data about COVID cases among children in protective custody after this story was originally published.

As of mid-October, there were 11 active COVID-19 cases among all children in the state's care.

Since the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services began counting in March, there have been 769 positive cases total among the more than 30,000 children in foster care.

The state added that there had been no backlog in placements because of any child’s COVID status.

The Simmons were certified as a foster family through Jonathan’s Place, a Dallas County agency that provides care to children in crisis.  

Jonathan’s Place operates emergency shelters, provides therapeutic programs, places children in foster homes and helps families interested in the adoption process.

“Foster families are amazing people and they don’t get enough credit,” said CEO Allicia Frye. 

“Even if it’s a child that doesn’t have COVID, you’re taking in a child you don’t know.”

COVID has strained the budget for Jonathan’s Place.

Children in the agency’s emergency shelters normally get one or two meals a day at school. Virtual learning forced the shelter to spend more on food and electricity bills. 

The agency had to purchase personal protective equipment and find creative ways to isolate children who arrive on campus.

“Jonathan’s Place will always be here for our community,” Frye said. “We will care for these children and we will make it work.”

“It’s been scary with COVID, but it always works out and it always works out because of our community,” she said.

Leah Simmons is a speech-language pathologist in Mesquite ISD and Jacob is the senior pastor of a church in Talty.

They are deeply faithful people who say fostering children is about giving grace.

They say their "Little Man" is growing fast and is fully recovered from his COVID diagnosis, but they and their caseworkers are still watching him for any lingering signs of the disease.

“We were OK with us getting COVID more so than him not being loved,” Jacob said. “If it comes down to that, we’ll take him every time.”