Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

I wanted rock ‘n roll, I got a science museum… Getting tested for the ‘roni

It’s hour 25 and I’m in isolation, awaiting the results of a COVID test.  The second test, actually.  I’ve been sampled twice in 24 hours.

The last time I saw my family was before Christmas.  Our previous family tradition was me spending a lot of time travelling, then a lot of time listening to various homophobic and/or racist comments and resisting the urge to Ruin Christmas for Everybody.  Why do it?  Our new family tradition is different; I stay at home, drink too much of something extremely nice, and eat my bodyweight in seafood (a measure that is growing each year).  And custard.  So much custard.  A season of all the different custards.

My nephew made the extremely good decision to be born about three weeks after Christmas.  Instead of coming down for Christmas, I fly down for his birthday.  Mini-Christmas one evening; birthday celebration the next.  Far more civilised.

But that didn’t happen this year.  Mum was going on a cruise for January.  And my brother was going away during February.  We would reschedule the Feast of St Mark the Wise and Glorious until March.

That was the plan. Before the dark times… Before the ‘roni.

As Australia got on top of the outbreak, my inbox flooded with deals and offers for holidays interstate.  Being as legalistic and Rabbinical as I am, I tried to keep abreast of the regulations in three different jurisdictions: ACT, NSW, and Victoria.  Despite using different language, did they mean the same thing?  Despite using the same language, did they mean different things?  The police appeared to be a bit more literal down in Victoria; a bit more accommodating in NSW.  But it looked like I would be fine to travel to my family.  New plans were made for the Feast of St Mark.

And then a new outbreak appeared to be emerging.  Keep to the plan or reschedule again?  It had been more than six months since I’d seen my family.  They didn’t live in a hotspot (decreasingly rural Victoria).  Maybe if I drove down along the coast rather than along the Hume?

Anyway, the drive down the coast is completely awful.  I am a man of peace and calm; I invented new swearwords for drivers who only discover the speed limit when there’s an overtaking lane, and for trucks that drive terrifyingly quickly when tailgating you on the flat, open road, somehow overtake you, and then travel at half the speed limit going through the hills.  And the roadworks.  Roadworks everywhere, making random stretches of road slightly less crappier than they were before.  By the end of the drive, I had a headache and muscle tension.  I also had a sore throat that I didn’t have at the start of the voyage…

My brother and his family came over for dinner, and then I crashed into bed and slept.

I decided that I wasn’t going to try the coastal path again.  No, sir.  I’m a civilised man and I need a civilsed road.  God intended us to drive long distances at 110 km/h, and I intended to do precisely that.  Hume, boy.

This required a recalculation: where was I most likely to encounter COVID?  Can’t get petrol near Pakenham — would have to get petrol earlier.  I don’t want to stop in Albury; Australia’s broken Federalism makes me suspect border towns are a ripe location for community transmission.

New plan: get petrol in Gippsland, then stop four hours later in Glenrowan for petrol, food, and a rest.  Then three hours to Gundagai, and then another two hours to Canberra.

I have the bladder of a tiny child.  I’m not going to make it four hours to Glenrowan; I make it two hours to the BP in Epping and I need to pee.  Is Epping on the list of COVID hot spots?  I only recall the two I care about: Casey and Darebin.  In which local council is Epping?

Bladder wins and I go for a pee.

My nephew is a petri dish of disease.  I have a bit of nasal congestion and my throat’s still a bit sore.  COVID is much less likely than bacteria and whatever novel strains of the common cold my nephew cultivated.  Still.  The rules are the rules: I figure I should do the right thing and go for a COVID test on my way back.

By the time I arrive in Canberra, I’m an hour later than I thought I would be.  The testing centre in Weston Creek shuts at 10; I’m not likely to make it.  I’ll go to the one in EPIC in the morning.

When it opens at 9.30, there is already a queue.  I’m through the gates at 9.40, then listen to music and read the Commonwealth Criminal Code for the next hour and a half.  The people in the queue generally seem to be older.  Nicer cars easily outnumber the bombs.  Maybe that’s just Canberra.  Four or five 4-wheel drive utes which I don’t see often.  They’re very shiny.

A waiting time of an hour and a half is good — no complaints on that front.  But it’s an inconvenience.  Instead of waiting in this queue, I could be doing something more productive.  I’m behind on my research.  I’m worried about getting work next semester.  This is time that I could be spending getting back up to speed.

I wonder how many other people should be in this queue but are discouraged by the inconvenience.  The casually-employed retail worker who went on holiday to NSW and has caught a mild sniffle is unlikely to be in this queue.  The single parent who’s picked up a mysterious cough is also unlikely to be in this queue.  By shifting the burden on to the public to be proactive in managing the problem, we stratify the response.  People who can afford to be in the queue (like me) are likely to get detected.

Stop the car.  Put on a mask.  Answer questions.  Give details.  Move the car to the next stop.  Answer questions.  Give details.  Move the car to the next stop.  The nurse pulls no punches: ‘This is going to be very unpleasant.’  I struggle a lot to keep my mouth open as I also have the gag reflex of a tiny child. Then the swab is up one nostril, then the other.  My eyes water and I’m spluttering.  It’s a thoroughly unpleasant experience and I am extremely grateful when it is over.

The nurse drops the swab.  She’s so apologetic.  She has to get the sample again.  All I can do is laugh and brace myself for the second dunking.

But it’s the next part that surprises me.  Because I have self-identified as a potential risk for COVID, I now have to treat myself as if I’m positive for COVID: self-isolation until they tell me that I’m all clear.

And this comes as a blow.  I have things that I need to get done.  Sacrificing a morning to the welfare of the community is one thing; sacrificing up to three days for the common good is another.  I don’t even like other people in the community that much.  Isn’t this thing really deadly to Boomers?  They’ve already crushed the housing market, the economic, and the public square; why am I letting them crush another three days of my happiness?

It’s clear why there would be silent tranmission in the public.  I have absolutely no doubt that many Canberrans have been to Victoria over the past week.  I have very little doubt that some of those people came back with symptoms slightly worse than mine who, instead, thought that giving up three days to wait for a test result wasn’t worth it — what are the odds that they’ve picked it up?

Despite being as legalistic and Rabbinical as I am, literally the only thing keeping me in isolation is an awareness of how shameful I’d feel if I actually did test positive and I’d been going about my reduced-interactions day.  The odds of me having it are vanishingly small… but I could picture myself having to explain to colleagues and administrators why I’d come into work when the information sheet has expressly told me to self-isolate…

Make no mistake: this is a massive disincentive for people to get tested.  Yes, I’d still have got tested but a less morally excellent version of myself wouldn’t have.  My office is quiet.  I have a comfy chair.  I have three computer monitors and I can get some real work done.  Sacrificing all of that when I had a sore throat that started on the drive down and a bit of congestion after hanging out with the most plague-ridden child in the world?  Commonsense tells you that there’s no point getting tested.  The average person is not going to get tested.  It’s only the extremely dutiful, the extremely paranoid, or the hypochondriacs who are going to get tested.

It’s now 26 hours, and I’m in isolation, awaiting the results of a COVID test…

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