Upton works through COVID exposure, maintains his duty as band director

HHS Band Director Daniel Upton after recieving his first COVID vaccine shot. Upton was exposed to COVID halfway through the school year and still feels its impacts to this day.

Photo Republished with Permission From Daniel Upton

HHS Band Director Daniel Upton after recieving his first COVID vaccine shot. Upton was exposed to COVID halfway through the school year and still feels its impacts to this day.

Alice Wightman, Staff Reporter

Back in Jan. of 2020, the first COVID-19 case was reported in North America. The number of cases started to grow in the US during the months of February and March Mr. Upton has been teaching as a band director for nine years at Harrisonburg High school. Upton and his fiancé started to wear masks in public before most people because of the prior research Upton had done about COVID-19 precautions.

“I remember going to Martin’s with a mask on and getting weird looks because that wasn’t the norm yet,” Upton said. 

Upton respected all of the precautions from the CDC starting in late March of 2020. He was used to visiting his family who lived about an hour away every couple weekends, but because of social distancing rules, he made the decision to stay away to keep everyone safe. Being cautious was especially important for Upton and his fiancé because his fiancé was diagnosed with cancer last year. While going through her radiation treatment, her immune system weakened which can make COVID-19 more deadly for her. 

“I would take everything off and wipe everything down before coming in the house after grocery shopping to make it safer for her,” Upton said. 

Upton and his fiancé didn’t eat in restaurants until November. They continue to wear masks, stay six feet apart and adhere to all other precautions to stay healthy. In July of 2020 Upton found out that Harrisonburg High School would be all virtual.

“It was pretty stressful because one day we were told that the school needed to pull the plug on band for this year, and the next day we were told that we could do Band Camp,” said Upton. 

Claire Leeper, another band director at HHS, collaborated with Upton on safe ways to ensure band camp would be able to run. The HHS band has around 150 musicians. Leaper and Upton broke the band up into four different groups so that they wouldn’t interact with each other. Band camp was in two hour sessions, and temperatures were taken everyday. Students also completed a COVID-19 screening before coming to practice. The only dilemma was how to ensure students could wear masks and also play their instruments. Musicians would stand over six feet apart when playing, but masks were put right back on when they finished playing. Covers were put on bells to eliminate aerosols. The band played from August all the way to December. During that time, there were zero reports of COVID-19 cases out of the 150 musicians in the band.

Several of the band members practicing for band socially distant. They followed CDC guidelines with sanitation and social distancing. (Photo Republished with Permission From Daniel Upton)

“Students were really great about the safety aspect of things, so we’re very proud of their work, and we will continue to do that in the spring,” said Upton. 

Although there were no known positive COVID cases during the band season, Upton and his fiancé did end up contracting the virus themselves. Upton’s fiancé works in an apartment complex as a leasing consultant. Although there are only five people who work in the office who all follow safety precautions closely, his fiancé was exposed to the virus the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving. Due to being on Thanksgiving break, Upton was around his fiancé a lot, so he got exposed as well.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, okay. I probably have it, too.’ It was one of those tests that you do yourself, and it was the most uncomfortable pain ever,” Upton said.

To Upton’s surprise, his initial test came back negative. However, later in the week, Upton began to experience COVID-19 related symptoms. After another test, Upton received a positive diagnosis.

 “It felt like I had a new symptom each day. It started with a headache and then quickly moved to body aches. I also had a sore throat and felt congested,” Upton said. “The body fatigue was a lot. During our quarantine, I still performed all of my responsibilities as a teacher as well as being a music director forElf the Musical,'” Upton said.

After their symptoms faded away, Upton and his fiancé slowly started leaving their house. Upton still has trouble breathing sometimes and an occasional loss of smell. 

“I really believe that the ‘COVID- brain’ is a thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes I can’t get simple words off the tip of my tongue, and I can sometimes have trouble remembering things,” Upton said. 

Although Upton contracted the virus in Nov, he did not feel obliged to share his experience until recently.

“I was worried about a possible stigma that some people might have if they found out that I had COVID,” said Upton. 

In January, Upton started to tell the band and other teachers about his experience. He found out that many students had COVID-19 back in the summer, and he wanted them to know that he could be an advocate for them. Upton signed up to be a community ambassador for the Virginia Department of Health. Through this, he shares truthful information about the virus on different social media platforms and is able to educate people around him about the virus. Upton has his first vaccination, and he is getting his second vaccination along with many other HCPS teachers on Feb. 26.

“The message that I want to share with students is that you have teachers that have gone through this. Don’t hide it; there’s not a stigma around it. We want to be there to support you. I just want to advocate for them and give them the best chance at low stress and success as possible throughout that,” Upton said.

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