So on Tuesday I got a text: Your COVID test is POSITIVE.
That’s how I became only the second person I know well who’s caught COVID; for an Australian, that’s probably not too unusual. But let’s roll back a bit.
I live between Adelaide and Melbourne; my partner Nicola moved to Victoria to take up a new role about a year ago. I most recently arrived in Victoria on 1 August to celebrate Nicola’s birthday. I planned to stay for a week. Two-and-a-half months later, I’m still here, having been in lockdown most of the time, and unable to return to South Australia due to border restrictions.
Back on 20 July I got my first shot of AstraZeneca in Adelaide, and on 11 September I got my second shot in Melbourne. Fully vaccinated.
So what happened?
Nicola (also fully vaccinated – with Pfizer) and I have a teenaged foster daughter, Gawu (one dose of Pfizer so far), who’d spent time with a friend on 1 October who we later discovered had cold-like symptoms.
Gawu had a COVID test on Sunday 3 October – a requirement for a study placement she was about to start. This came back negative the next day. But the next Wednesday evening she started feeling unwell. We took no chances and went into preventative mode. Gawu stayed in her room and slept most of Thursday and would only come out with a mask on. Lots of handwashing, no shared utensils etc. We were a little thrown by her symptoms because of the negative test result only a couple of days earlier. We thought it was most likely just a cold (we didn’t know about the meeting with the friend at that stage).
By Friday morning Gawu was feeling worse, with a nasty cough, painful chest and muscle aches, so the three of us headed off to a nearby drive-through testing station. Nicola and I came back negative, but Gawu was positive, and so became the first person I knew well who’d caught the virus. Given we’d already been effectively treating her as a positive case with the isolation and mask-wearing, and the fact that Nicola and I are fully vaccinated, we felt nervously optimistic.
So, despite feeling nothing more than the hay-fever symptoms that are typical at this time of year, Nicola and I went back again on the Sunday for another test – having worked out that this should clear us for the time Gawu was contagious before showing symptoms. The next day Nicola got her negative result via text. I didn’t get a message.
And then, more than 48 hours after the test, I did. Which brings us back to the start.
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The initial feeling of being positive, especially when I actually felt fine other than having a slight snuffle and a tickly cough, was quite surreal. In a narrow-minded view of the world, perhaps I felt COVID was something that happened to others. Being fortunate enough to be able to work from home does seemingly create an invisible shield, in terms of both vulnerability and awareness of the challenges being “out in the community” presents.
Throughout Tuesday there were several calls from the health authorities – interestingly a number of them Irish, and there’s nothing like the lilt of an Irish accent to keep your spirits up. The system was working in terms of making sure I was okay and that I knew what to do.
As day 3 (given the test was conducted two days before, that’s my ground zero) wore on I started to feel the cold symptoms coming on a little stronger. I have to say I wondered if it was purely psychosomatic, but my nose started running like a tap. By the evening I felt like I was in solid, annoying cold mode: the kind that doesn’t really stop you doing anything, but you probably wouldn’t go into the office to avoid infecting others. Given Melbourne lockdown and home is my current ‘office’, nothing really changed.
So that’s where it stands. I feel like the textbook case of a fully vaccinated individual that has caught a breakthrough COVID infection and has pretty mild symptoms. It’s frustrating, but I figure that at least my immunity will be up when it’s all over.
I’ll write more in the days to come.
Chuck Smeeton is Chief Operating Officer of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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