Triple flip: I work at a COVID hotspot

COVID-19 and Me

The scramble for answers when you are defined as a close COVID contact.

It's 9:20am on a Saturday and I still have 10 minutes before my alarm goes off for work, so why is my brother shaking me awake. It's a wakeup with a COVID wallop: a customer who visited the sports store where I worked two days earlier has tested positive. It's deemed a casual contact scenario.

A quick look at the work team group chat confirms my brother isn't pulling my leg. Thoughts start to swirl. Did I leave the store on my break? Did I bring food that day and avoid the food court? If only I had taken that day off. Which customer could it have been? I work right at the front of shop. I interact with just about everyone that sets foot inside. My chances are not looking good. Reality sinks in quickly and by the time the phone call comes in from the manager with directives to get tested and isolate, there was little to do but follow.

The store in a Western Sydney shopping centre is shut down, effective immediately, and over 15 team members must get tested and send back results. A deep clean of the store is ordered. I have barely returned from the drive-through testing clinic when the situation escalates, and we are now listed as a close contact hotspot.

Team members begin to send through results, negative after negative ... why are some tests, like mine, taking so long?

It is no longer just employees and customers affected, now we all need an appropriate family plan. It barely has time to take shape before the "whole of Sydney" lockdown is announced at 2pm.

Supportive messages flow in from friends and family. "You ok??" "Let me know if you need anything 🙏🙏".

Team members begin to send through results on the group chat, negative after negative. There are two schools of thought running: firstly, so far so good; secondly, why are some tests, like mine, taking so long?

My result finally arrives at 7:10pm that night. It's negative! However, that is simply for Saturday, June 26. The result is not set in stone and if anything, we will have a more accurate picture as the coming days unfold when I take another test.

Over the course of one Saturday, we've shifted from a casual to close, and once more back to a casual contact site. What do I need to do? A call to NSW health with not one, but two call centre operators revealed no answers and left me in even greater confusion than before. I don't know if I can leave my house, and apparently, neither do the people in charge.

It was as if Gladys Berejiklian heard my query. In announcing the lockdown, she warned: "As an abundance of caution, people are being deemed to be close [contacts] until they are deemed to be casual."

So, as a COVID-negative casual contact, I'm all set, I can pick up my next shift at the newly deep cleaned store on Thursday.

Or not.

As the premier would say, out of an abundance of caution, I check back with the NSW Health site on Monday. The store's status has reverted once more to a close contact listing. The instruction is: "Anyone who attended this venue is a close contact and must immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result, and call 1800 943 553 unless they have already been contacted by NSW Health."

It's the third flip in three days. Shut the front door. If I'm reading this right, I won't need my alarm clock for the next two weeks.


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