This is not a unique story.
I’m trapped in a house with my husband and two teens, and we’re all sick.
My 19-year-old son was the first to go down on Tuesday, 28 December. In the morning he developed stomach cramps, vomiting, a migraine and a high fever. I bought him the last rapid antigen test at the local servo. It came up as positive.
And so began our efforts to be included in New South Wales’ latest Covid figures. A week later and we are still not part of that count.
I live in northern NSW and last Tuesday was a public holiday. I rang three public hospitals to find out which testing centres were open and learnt that every testing centre was overrun and our chances of getting in were Buckley’s.
I was undeterred. My son had severe asthma as a child. Would Omicron trigger his asthma? I’m probably an anxious mother, but I wanted an official diagnosis in case he needed hospital care. I also believe that the state and federal governments need to chart the spread of infection because it’s their job to deliver resources to hospitals and tighten pandemic restrictions to slow infection. I was determined for us to be included in the Covid count.
On Tuesday afternoon we drove to the Byron drive-through testing clinic – the security guard said they couldn’t test any more people. We then headed to Ballina only to be turned away. Lismore and Casino’s drive-throughs were also closed.
We went home. My son’s temperature was above 38C that night despite the Nurofen and Panadol. The headaches also started for me.
At 6am on Wednesday, my feverish son dragged himself out of bed and I drove him back to a drive-through testing clinic. It was almost 20C, but he wore a hoodie, and brought a blanket and box of tissues. By 9am we’d crawled to the front of the drive-through queue. I told the nurse he had a positive RAT and a history of severe asthma. She said his results would be fast-tracked and back in 50 hours. I was surprised that 50 hours was considered fast, but still grateful he was a priority.
We drove home from the testing centre and into the twilight zone. The whole family became unwell, and days of high temperatures, strange dreams, headaches, dizziness and exhaustion followed.
Since the summer influx of visitors to the northern rivers, one member of my family has received a Covid exposure site alert every second day. It has been like playing dodgem cars with Covid. We got hit.
Our region is popular with tourists so they add to rapidly increasing case numbers, but it also has a high percentage of elderly and First Nations residents and a limited number of ICU beds. I hope our health system holds in coming weeks.
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has told journalists: “We will tailor our response to the situation that comes. If evidence changes, we will have targeted restrictions in place.”
For seven days, we have been trying to contribute to “the evidence”. Yesterday – 122 hours after being swabbed – my son and I received our positive results so I anticipate we will be in today’s figure, exactly a week after he became sick. My husband and daughter will surely be added to the numbers having also been tested.
The questions I keep coming back to now are: is the testing system so slow because labs are under-resourced, and the state government did not plan for a contagious new variant and Christmas travel and celebrations causing a surge in cases? Or are numbers rising so quickly it’s simply impossible for labs to keep up? Should we consider Victoria’s lead and look at allowing people to upload RAT results?
What is clear though is the latest numbers being given out by government clearly do not reflect daily infection rates. I’ve come to think of the NSW Covid-19 figures as being like a Hubble space telescope – reporting back what happened light years ago.