A cautionary tale

There hadn’t been any community transmission of Covid-19 in New South Wales for a number of days. The Premier was warning against complacency. In our part of the inner west there were still plenty of masks in evidence, and at the supermarket we politely gave each other wide berths. But the virus is still out there. Here’s a timeline of what happened next in my family (no trigger warning needed):

Sunday 4 October: The Emerging Artist and I had yum cha with four other people. Two people turned up in masks. We all used the hand sanitiser on arrival. When we were seated, in a small private room because that’s what was available, the person in our group who is statistically most likely to have serious illness if she’s infected asked for sanitiser and wiped down the table and her chair. There was some mild eye-rolling. We had a pleasant lunch.

Monday 5 October: With a great sense of liberation and celebration, the Emerging Artist and I had dinner at friends’ house. We ate roast chicken, just four of us, and spent a very pleasant evening catching up on each other’s lives, and laughing a lot.

Tuesday 6 October: One of the people from Sunday’s yum cha – call him Alfredo – spent a couple of hours at his work in close contact with a student, helping her to use some complex equipment. He gave her his mobile number so she could phone for help the next day when she was to use the equipment. Unknown to him (and possibly her), the student’s mother was being tested for Covid while they were meeting.

Wednesday 6 October: The student learned in the morning that her mother had tested positive. She got tested and that night at nine o’clock got word that she too was positive. She immediately phoned Alfredo to let him know. He was the only person she had had contact with at his workplace.

Thursday 7 October: Alfredo drew up a list of everyone he had spent time with at work on Tuesday and since, and told them the story. They got themselves tested and did the self-isolation thing. He also called us early in the morning to let us know.

The Emerging Artist and I were tested late morning – no waiting, friendly people doing the job, and a horrible sensation in the nose. We were grandparenting that day, and as Alfredo had visited our granddaughter and her family on Sunday before the yum cha, we had her tested too – and her parents did it separately. We assumed that Alfredo’s exposure happened after we’d seen him, but no one was absolutely sure who was infected when. All the others from yum cha were also tested, and went into isolation pending results.

On Thursday night, the contact tracers phoned to tell Alfredo that he was regarded as a ‘close contact’, and that he should be tested. He told them he was ahead of them. They said that, as a close contact, even if his test came back negative he was to self-isolate for another ten days and then be tested again. That is to say, it took the contact tracers well over 24 hours to contact him, which I would have thought was time for him to do plenty of spreading if he was infected. They didn’t ever contact us.

Friday 8 October: A little after 6 in the morning, the Emerging Artist and I received text messages saying no trace of Covid was found in our samples or our granddaughter’s. Alfredo, the granddaughter’s parents, and the other Yum Cha-ers got text messages on Friday evening saying they too were negative. Alfredo is still in strict isolation, but the rest of us are back to Sydney-Covid-normal.

It’s sobering to realise that if the timing of those events had been just a little different, this could have been a story to make us roll our eyes in a whole other direction.

22 responses to “A cautionary tale

  1. kathyprokhovnik

    Thanks Jonathan. So glad you’re all ok. It’s completely haphazard isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to hear you’re all ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope you all stay well.


  4. And today the news breaks that covid lasts on glass for up to a month and stainless steel for up to a fortnight… so touching someone else’s phone or using cutlery at a restaurant or a dinner party is fraught with peril. See https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-12/coronavirus-can-live-on-surfaces-28-days-australian-scientists/12752108
    I’m glad you and all the family are ok.
    Re the contact tracing: it’s an inexact art, and IMHO it’s unreasonable for us to rely on it or to blame them for what look like lapses. Firstly people being interviewed don’t always answer their phones (I’d be a prime culprit because I rarely use it and I miss a lot of calls, and if I don’t recognise the missed number, I don’t ring back.) Young people are often not at the address they’ve given: they’re staying at a boyfriend’s or whatever. Thirdly, if they’re out and about a lot they forget who they’ve been in contact with, especially if they’re not important events, and fourthly sometimes they lie because they have something to hide.
    Which means that your friend with the sanitiser is C-smart. We have to take responsibility for ourselves, with masks, distancing, endless handwashing, keeping our hands away from our faces (which is the hardest one to do) and sanitising all kinds of things we’ve never sanitised before. (I’m even wondering about the library books I borrow, because they have a plastic cover.)
    And we also know that the toxic politics imported from America is sabotaging these health messages and that more and more people are ignoring them. I’ve never really bothered about bogan culture before, live and let live, I say, and if people believe in the Kardashians the way other people believe in the Queen, well good luck to them. But now the fact that such people get their news and health messages from fashion gurus and bodybuilders and tattoo artists is rather troubling.
    I think we’re in this for a very long haul.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa. Certainly this little episode has increased my level of caution. Though I’m typing this while out to buy bread, and realise I’m not wearing a mask, and have only seen two people who are. Social distancing looks ok, but we could be cruising for a bruising.


    • I read that too, Lisa, but my thought is that if it really lasts THAT significantly for that long we’d surely have far more cases than we do. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t be careful.

      We have just spent 3 days in the Southern Highlands, and while there was almost no mask-wearing they were far more diligent about checking in than we are here. Here is it mostly an honour system, whereas there most places meet you at the door and make you check in before you enter. Also, the chemist – as ours were back in the days we had cases – would not let us touch products on the shelves. We could look and point and they retrieved. My brother in Tasmania on the other hand has no check-in requirements – they are clear and being an island, unlike the ACT, they can feel that extra bit more secure.

      Anyhow, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing that story. You can see the challenges the contact tracers face.


      • Well, Sue, if you read the article, it reports what the research found. It could certainly explain the mystery cases, where no one knows where the infection came from.


      • Yes, sorry if I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying it doesn’t explain that but more that I suspect the quantity of highly active viruses in those places after that time is probably low because I just can’t believe that the cleaning in all the places infected people have been has been that rigorous to explain how few mysteries overall that we’ve had? Eg the last Canberra cluster, the infected people went to public places with just those surfaces. We’d been clear for weeks at that time so I’d be surprised if a those places had been rigorously cleaned between every customer. There was no community transmission from those people. I think it makes the point that cleaning is necessary and interesting in terms of this virus’ behaviour, but my logical brain says we shouldn’t panic about touching every surface we come across? Then again, maybe I’d feel differently if I’d been in hard lockdown for two months!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, yes, you probably would…
        Let’s hope you stay lucky. Because that’s all it is.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh surely it’s virtue rewarded. A remark that needs a sarcasm font.


  5. In Newtown yesterday and very surprised at the lack of precautions there. Buses full with few masks, streets busy, again few masks.


  6. Ooh ouch!

    Glad you’re ok and hope that ‘Alfredo’ is able to cope with the isolation.

    The delay in the official contacting is a worry, though you’d hope they realise that speed is of the essence and are doing their best.

    Richard and Agnes



  7. With the latest information about aerosols and the ending power of fomites on surfaces, this is not a time for complacency. Unfortunately, in the US we have a psychopath in the White House and so there is a complete lack of leadership and sanity at the highest level. So – listening to the epidemiologists seems to me that social life remains out of the question. Thanks for the story – cautionary for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The situations are so different in different places. Australia’s total number of deaths from the pandemic so far is less than the daily rate in some US cities. The original aim to ‘flatten the curve’ has been met here (so far!). The extreme measures taken by the Victorian government have successfully (so far!) brought number way back down, some other states have had zero community transmission for quite a while, and even here in germy New South Wales numbers are very low. I agree that complacency is dangerous – that was the point of my blog post. But I’m not ruling out social life altogether under current circumstances. My book group is debating whether to meet in person this month, and I don’t know yet which side of the debate I come down on.


  8. Wow that’s very close to home!!
    I’ve been tested twice. First up, when our local inner west supermarket had a positive scare a couple of months ago. Then last month Mr Books caught a very bad cold after visiting family in Albury. We tested again & isolated for 2 days while we waited for our negative results. It brings it home how close & how quick things can happen.
    Glad you & yours are all well.

    Liked by 1 person

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