Coronavirus — finding a way through the mess

Nicola Paris
Mar 13 · 21 min read

A week of self isolation and getting tested for Corona. This is what I learned about Covid-19, the testing criteria and process in Melbourne/Naarm and links to solid information, as well as community solidarity resources. It was incredibly confusing and overwhelming, and whilst I felt absolutely godawful for some of it, I was mainly concerned about risk to others, and made decisions based on that.

I’m seeing LOTS of people in the same boat. I am 100% not a medical professional or public health communicator so please don’t scream at me if I don’t get every detail correct. This is a punters perspective only. Take it as is. Don’t be put off by the word limit, scroll down to the bottom for links to more info.

Our community is only as strong as our most vulnerable citizens. Get informed — more below. Don’t judge people who are preparing, and don’t judge people who find it difficult to self isolate — in fact hey — maybe just don’t judge? (Unless you know people with 300 toilet rolls)

Diary of My Carona… (Okaaay. I know. I didn’t use it as the headline OK. Also 99% unlikely to have it)

Wednesday 4th AM — Flight Perth to Melbourne for work. Funtimes full flight.
Friday 6th — exhausted, couldn’t get up. Had that signature first day of full on cold or flu “hit by a train” feeling. Figured it was a typical post plane lurgy which I’m prone to. Slept all day, felt a tiny bit better that eve, sore throat.
Saturday — went to strategy meet with my lurvely team, tired, foggy, sore throat but ok. Soaked clothes overnight in sweat.
Sunday — wiped out again, head getting really bad. Had to cancel work meet. 3 hrs sleep. Have endone for chronic pain. Even 2 of them couldn’t keep head pain at bay. Started self-isolating after reading a whirlwind of stuff
Monday — head awful, took lots of meds, called hotline, went to doofus doctor who talked at me and pushed me out the door in under 3 minutes, got told viral infection and given antibiotics (duh), and not eligible bc no running nose. Fretted I wasn’t eligible for testing and worried about harm to others. Also told them I was at risk and promptly put in room with lots of people. Worried about things to come if some GPs were so lax.

Ronnie. My house bound boyfriend. Dreamboat.

Moved from pregnants friends house who was returning to a cheap arse hotel. Managed to find last bottle of disinfectant spray in Coburg and wiped down all the main surfaces before leaving. Gave a big kiss to my beautiful pupper companion who kept me company in bed. Got to hotel, holed up, and soaked in the view of glory of steam pipes and an empty UDL can on the roof, and watched hella bad TV.

Tuesday — bad head, sore throat. Head really fecking hurts across sinus. Am reminded this was a common symptom people discussed but announcements didn’t. Slept 12 hours. Sweaty/soaked bed clothes. Spent too much time on twitter.
Wednesday — not as bad headache but taking codeine all day to stave it off. More bad TV. More avocado and crackers and muesli and hommus in hotel room of glory. Spent too much time on twitter.
From Monday on — tracking symptoms, reading lots on twitter and lots of public information, trying to understand the lay of the land and true risk factors. Got bloody confused like you all.

This article explained a two stage phase of the illness similar in some aspect to mine, found a bunch of information that stated that headaches were a common feature, though rarely discussed in government information or announcements, even though runny nose was mentioned more often and is a much less common occurrence.

Thursday — started getting distressed again at the idea of infecting others, and tried hotline again, then 5 different GP’s. Spent too much time on twitter. Pondered on how punchable this dude is. Really starting to feel the isolation of being away from my home bed, and not wanting to lean on local networks in case I was at risk. Tearfully wrote a dramatic and unclear facebook status asking for help.
Decided to suck it up and see if I can get tested. The rest follows… found a safe, low risk place to stay with a mate who is very healthy and has space big enough for me to minimise contact. Felt incredibly grateful to social networks.

SHOULD I BE TESTED
This is different state to state. This from experience in Vic as of 12/3/20. Check for local updates. Also, put pressure on Greg Hunt and your local health minister to FIX THE HOTLINE. Heaps less people will clog up the system if they can get actual clear information. When I called and got through I found them helpful.

As I explain below, I found it really helpful and illuminating just going through the testing process so maybe I can help you. Beforehand I was sceptical of their limits on testing. They seemed weird and arbitrary but I understand they need to draw a line. The piece I didn’t understand was that anyone with symptoms who had been overseas could be tested, but I had been on a plane from Perth — a city that can be an international transit point — yet didn’t qualify. I could have been sitting next to people who were infected. I explain this further.

However, Inside the clinic it seemed very clear where that line *currently* was, even if I wasn’t able to entirely follow it all with my dorky sleuth hat on.

If you have regular cold and flu symptoms, and HAVE NOT been overseas and HAVE NOT been directly exposed to someone who has tested positive, at this stage don’t worry. The one symptom that seemed to trump this from what I could tell is if you have a proper fever for a chunk of time measuring over 38 degrees — though it seemed to be variably interpreted according to some other criteria.

If you are sick and around immunosuppressed people — just do what you would regularly do. I spent a chunk of one family occasion in a mask when my marmee was going through chemo, and avoided her at other times. Just act as you normally would out of love, and pay special attention to hygiene and hand washing. Don’t be around other people you don’t want to make sake — not because of COVID-19 but because we love fellow humes and we don’t want them to be sick!

If you think you need to be tested for some particular high risk reason, that doesn’t fit information above, then it appears anecdotally that some GP clinics have been allowing a more discretionary approach than the hospital testing places, and also might be less busy. The drive through one in Melbourne Inner North sounds great, though charges $35 out of pocket. There is another in St Kilda, and other opening. Honestly, asking around sounds like the easiest way to find out. (Will add info here if it comes to light)

DON’T BLAME THE DOCTORS AND NURSES
I had an absolutely terrible visit to a GP this week. He was a shit GP who was a patient churner who didn’t listen. He’d be a shit GP when Corona isn’t happening too. My regular doctors are not like that. They are wonderful, and when I last left Melbourne it felt like I was breaking up with someone who understood me! Oh, the separation anxiety. The dramahhh.

Apart from that one GP, my experience has been great with the actual doctors and nurses. They have been given an awful shit sandwich which is only going to get worse, and really traumatic for them. Reading what Italian doctors are going through is heartbreaking. Locally they are frustrated.

Over here currently they are stuck between “the worried well” and really poor community information dissemination. Absolutely unbelievable that the Prime Minister gave an address to the nation with zero helpful information, and Greg Hunt has complicated their work by saying everyone who is sick should be tested, when that is honestly not the case — yet.

WHAT HAPPENS IN TESTING
I waited at Royal Melbourne Hospital from just before 4pm Thursday 12th — and was finally processed and released at 930pm.

One thing I was shocked by is that people didn’t have masks on. I had looked a couple places and had heard broadly there were none to be found, so I didn’t have one. Also, living mainly in Perth now, I didn’t have any spares from the bushfire haze which many will have. I asked the nurse and she told me in a pretty weary, annoyed way that they were being stolen. She looked well feckin over it. I can’t blame her. I later was told they were for sale at the chemist across the road. ($5 and $8 for different “strengths” Bless em, the assistants really weren’t clear what that meant. I went wild and bought both.) I was in line outside for maybe two hours I think. There were around 40–50 people before me that I could see. Once I was inside I realised there was probably the same again inside.

In Melbourne there are 7 hospitals testing, and at least one “drive through” clinic in North Melbourne — which a friend went to, which sounded awesome and super efficient. Someone reported late on 12/3 they had run out of testing kits though. Another is being set up shortly in Croydon. It’s not clear to me where you can find this information though. In SA they also have a drive through option. Not sure about elsewhere.

In North Melbourne you call up, pay money in advance (partially rebated I believe) and then drive through and they swab you. A friend went through and found it friendly and quick. Another mate called today and got an appointment for tomorrow AM. What I’m not sure of is how much advice they give you — which they were really helpful with at RMH.

SOCIALS IS WHERE ITS AT — I found more help in my social networks, and especially on twitter rather than the website. Not medical advice, but information that helped me assess my situation, and intel on where/what was happening with testing. Ask your mates. Someone will know someone. Just take anecdotal experience with a grain of salt if it’s not guaranteed solid.

And don’t listen to anyone who thinks it’s a Chinese world domination conspiracy and we are all going to have chemtrail babies that Dean Koontz foretold.

Steps in the testing/triage protocol
This will obviously not be the same everywhere. The nurse outside gave basic info and handouts. They state (as of yesterday — it will change as the situation evolves, and to be clear — THIS IS VIC SPECIFIC, where there is much less cases than NSW) you are eligible for testing if
1) You have been overseas recently, and esp to a high risk country (the obvious ones listed). Given the incompetence showing there I’d be considering the US super high risk even though its not listed as such yet.
2) You have been in direct contact with someone who has tested positive (no, not gone to golden plains and danced with 10,000 people including that one positively tested person — actual meaningful contact.) As in, you’d probably have heard in your social networks if someone in your extended circles was infected. What they refer to as “close contact”. Unclear if they include casual contact in this example. *these definitions are here
3) You have a fever above 38 degrees (which can be tested on the spot)
Whilst I didn’t fit the technical parameters I had enough of a case and extenuating circumstances she let me through. There is also a doctor who was checking and talking to some people. They also took temperature tests.

When I asked the doctor about why there weren’t masks, I then talked to them some more. He could see I was kinda distressed and not well. I went through my story and symptoms (already explained above), plus the fact I was worried about exposing people at a wedding, training people, getting back on a plane soon. He said I didn’t qualify and went to get me a letter that said so, so I could see a GP. Then he came back and said he’d changed his mind, and that I clearly wasn’t well and should probably be tested. Not sure if they were monitoring socials and saw my tweeting or he conferred with another doctor. Either way he was very helpful in explaining.

Once inside it was more organised. Chairs are spaced apart and the nurses are robed up in PPE. They come around first and gather your personal details and do a quick check to see if you fit test criteria. One small note, it’s not super private so if you have old info on hospital databases (I’m thinking trans folk for example) you might want to ask to speak in private? You wait a while. Then you get called up to go through your symptoms in more detail, and your travel, other relevant circumstances in another area.

Your allocated gaffa square in the triage for testing. See — gaffa does sort all the things

Then you wait a while.
Then you get called into the next room where you get a super fancy square of gaffa tape exclusion zone to sit in with chairs spaced apart (it took me at least 2.5 hours to get in here I think, and was clearly being triaged according to need. I am used to chronic pain so I was low ont he pain scale answer which might explain my longer wait? Or maybe they are flooded). A doctor then came over and talked to me. They were very generous and detailed with their answers. As I didn’t have an official record of fever, I kinda fit into the grey zone with testing being optional.

After 4 hours of waiting it seemed silly not to get tested — however I had the option not to, and get a letter saying I didn’t require a test, which could be useful for some situations (ie, being able to get back into your GP?). And the idea is, if you are tested you are essentially committing to then self-isolating until results 3–5 days later. In my very particular situation they suggested a tiny bit of flexibility might be possible given circumstances and that I was interstate, away from home etc, but that was unusual and very much not the standard recommendation. I’d never put myself in a situation I thought would risk others who were vulnerable. Anyway, I took the test.

Especially since I paid money to self isolate and locked myself in a small hotel room with a fancy view of a gutter, and an empty UDL and ate hommus and avocado and corn crackers and muesli for several days whilst alternating between the nazi hunting series and various horrifying reality tv shows. The dedication to bad TV was commendable.

THE GREAT SWABALICIOUS ADVENTURE
The actual swab itself is not heaps of fun. Its not the worst thing either, but they swab your nose and throat, and the nose bit in particular was pretty intense, felt a bit like they were brain excavating and went on a deep dive excursion up there. Lucky there was not much to find and no grey matter was attached when the pointy thing re-emerged.

FREE LIKE A BIRD
4.5 hours later I was free baby. They sent me on my way with info, a prescription I requested (being away from home and having chomped through my chronic pain meds to deal with the chainsaw headache from hell). I was told I’d be informed in 3–5 days — with a call if positive, text if not.

STUFF I LEARNED
• They say you will get informed 3–5 days later. If it’s a positive test for Covid-19 you will get a call, and otherwise, I believe a text, but there seemed to be slight confusion on that. Some clinics are saying 3 days and I reckon the hospital was looking pretty overwhelmed so they might be slower?
• The doctor told me that of all the people tested so far in Victoria less than 1% were testing positive — and that’s with these somewhat strict criteria. I found that reassuring. I also wonder if that was maybe why they were kinda blasé about people standing so close to each other? But that is just conjecture.
• The other important point is there has been NO COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION***. I thought this sounded a bit bullshit when I read it on the public health website (like I have zero faith in government, and some of the info is several days old, which is a lot in a rapidly changing environment). What this means is basically that they have been able to track the cases. As I understand it (please don’t scream at me health nerds) the confirmed cases are all either a) directly from people catching them overseas b) catching them from someone else who has tested positive or been overseas — mainly close contacts. They said this in Victoria but said it applied to the whole country — so take that how you want.

(EDIT: A friend in public health says this is not the case, and there has been community transmission, and gave this link to definitions — basically what I understood from the doctor — who, I’ve been advised, will not have the big picture, is that most cases have been trackable — ie; they are doing a great job of tracking, and current cases have come from people travelling overseas or their direct contact points that are trace-able. Which means its not running rampant through the community yet, like it is in the United States where people can’t afford to be tested)

I don’t think this means we shouldn’t be taking precautionary measures but I found those two pieces of information useful to get a grasp on the current severity of the situation in this state. Its also limited in WA, NT, and other places. This of course could change very quickly and once community transmission scales up things could move fast. But it was nice to know, for example, I’m not likely going to be trapped in Melbourne because all planes will be grounded… that was a little nightmare scenario I had been wondering about all week (In between writing this section 12 hours ago though, the Grand Prix and major festivals have been cancelled)

So, this means there is a little time to prepare. Personally, I think there is a difference between hoarding and stocking up, but after being a poor low income hospitality worker for chunk of my 20s and only eating yellow food, I keep a decent buffer of food in my pantry, and I’ve already got some extra meds at home, so if I was caught out later in the cycle I think I’d be alright.

Check this babe on twitter who I enjoy following for a bunch of reasons but she has cool tips (and does excellent drunken book reviews too) for bulk cooking and long life of foods.

• There are info sheets on this, but if you are asked to self-isolate and in a shared housing situation they say to practice good hygiene and hand washing — everyone in house, be mindful of touching surfaces in shared spaces (not enough data on this yet — current thinking is covid-19 could last several hours to a day or more — though likely less), and use disinfectant spray on shared surfaces. And wear a mask — I found it was actually really helpful to be aware of when I was touching myself, maybe a good way to train yourself generally — though they are still saying healthy people shouldn’t be wearing masks…not sure if that’s a supply concern though, as another friend theorises.

  • The hotline sucks and is very hard to get through on. Hopefully they boost staff on it. I got through several days ago but yesterday was bad, just cut off several times, others waited hours. Though the person I spoke to was helpful.
Never ending story — trying to find info is hard

• The never ending stoooooooorrrrryyyyyy … There is a bit of a merri-go-round frustration cycle… Many GPs don’t want to see you, and will send you to the hospital, or say to call the helpline, and then you can go there and find you are ineligible for testing. After a week of self isolation this is the point that kinda pushed me to the edge.

WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION
A list of websites including the main Victorian one below. As an exercise in clear public health communication I think it kinda sucks. In fact I think most of the publicly communicated information from the Australian government sucks, and Morrison is an irresponsible muppet encouraging people to go to the footy whilst the Grand Prix is cancelled and local artists lose money when festivals cancel… which is why I’m writing what I learned in the last week and testing process.

LINKS RECOMMENDED BY A FRIEND IN PUBLIC HEALTH

HAVE YOU ALWAYS SECRETLY WONDERED HOW SOAP WORKS?

No — just me? Awkward. But if you have, here is an article explaining the glory that is basic old soap and why its best to stop virus.

WHAT THE FRICK IS THIS CURVE AND WHY MUST I FLATTEN IT?
Check out the explanation here. No, its not an oppressive patriarchal bathers body policing kinda situation. Your booty is fine. Basically its suggesting we get ahead of the situation and use self isolation, social distancing and minimise large public gatherings to reduce the exponential rate of the virus spreading.

Remember Italy was where Australia is now less than two weeks ago. Now the entire country is locked down and doctors are having to make horrific decisions about who to let die for lack of resources.

As an activist of course I am wary of plans to stop gatherings, and restrictive legislation, curtailing of rights, but I believe its right to do so, and wrong to be calling people making plans hysterical.

This is what strict quarantine measures in Singapore & HK (plus Taiwan) does to reduce spread & reduce surge demand on our hospitals. Australia’s government won’t have the same capability, for good & bad reasons. We have to do this ourselves — From Twitter

Here is a case for flattening those curves from AUSTRALIA and CANADA, plus an insight into what may have happened if China moved quicker — though their very strict measures have meant they just closed one of the emergency hospitals erected in Wuhan. And another case to “act now.”

In other important news you can “catten the curve”

Cattening the curve: Image: “flatten the curve graph with kitties overlaid”

SHOULD WE CANCEL EVERYTHING
I think that’s state dependent. Doctor friends are saying yes, start the social distancing at least. Mixed views but it appears lots of people leaning towards #CancelEverything

EDIT: As of 13/3/20 PM the Prime Minister is asking for all non-essential events over 500 people to be cancelled, and reconsider overseas travel

So yeah — that’s what I found out. Happy to add extra links if you get in touch. I’m deeply grateful to live in a country where I was able to be tested for free. In the United states its $1500 or more to be tested without healthcare, ie the most vulnerable people. Nurses absolutely rule. Please think of the people you may or may not know who are immunosuppressed, have people to care for, and are in vulnerable situations. If you are healthy you should be working out how to help others, and if you have cold/flu, wait it out and then help others xx

Wash your hands, check on your neighbours. Good hygiene is an act of political solidarity and love!

If you are an activist/community minded friend… Read more below if you fancy — looks like we got ourselves a reader!

WHAT CAN WE DO POLITICALLY AND AS A COMMUNITY
Washing your hands is an act of love and community care. Stuff the Gillard misogyny speech (all the single ladies…all the single ladies… lets take their income…all the single ladies)… find a favourite punk song or resistance song to time your hand washing to. Some kind person even made a meme generator handwashing song lyric meme-ifier — so if someone can do Bella Ciao that be sweet ok thanks. Or you can check out Gloria Gaynor rocking it, but just don’t let that tap keep running!

As progressive folks we need to act as we always should — leaving no one behind. That means directly challenging the “she’ll be right mate” approach. If you are healthy, then you are exactly who should be changing your behaviour!

We need to expand our politics to those of radical solidarity — how can we help the most vulnerable — those in prisons (some have already died in riots due to treatment relating to the virus), people being targeted for racial abuse, remote communities, people who are disabled, those who are already incredibly vulnerable who will get little relief from $750 stimulus.

This is again where we can learn from grassroots activist and anarchist groups, people practicing mutual aid, and activist work such as Occupy Sandy — where people who acquired skills during the Occupy movement deployed them (and continue to) to support communities impacted by climate disruption. Climate JUSTICE is about leaving no one behind. If you see anyone rejoicing about the low carbon impact of China due to recent deaths, or compare these situations or celebrate the deaths as mother nature culling — maybe have a quiet word. Not OK.

I’ve collated some resources with CounterAct about communities vulnerable to climate disruption. They are equally vulnerable to Coronavirus for similar reasons. Understand more here, and more information gathered below:

  • Sign this petition for Australian workers to be guaranteed income
  • Some thoughtful asks from progressives in the UK. Love to see some similar asks from civil society here. Especially keen to see union leadership so we can show solidarity with casual workers. Soon we may well have lots of time we can use to advocate and be activist AF on socials and the phone. If campaigners and organisers don’t use this opportunity — fools I tell you!
  • Pandemic resources for Progressives (Aust)
  • Coronavirus planning from a co-op — The Hearth — great resource
  • Coronavirus and community activism - the Ecologist
  • Are you an organiser/activist/in an NGO — here is a policy guide to pandemics from our community
  • Covid briefer (great collection by a super ninja activist friend)
  • A cool twitter thread on mutual aid
  • Risk informed decision making (from Canada)
  • Check on your neighbours. I will be personally checking in with my local barter, swap, and community facebook pages and offering to run errands, do cooking, etc
  • Learn from disabled people. These crew have been organising from home and in constrained circumstances for years — they have stuff we can learn. Also, for activist/organiser friends — at CounterAct we may host a webinar soon with some information direct from the source. Also, build these learnings into your organisation after this event passes — its going to give everyone a huge insight into life with chronic pain and disability, for those house-bound. Use this as an opportunity to expand what is possible!
  • Ask Aboriginal groups and collectives how you can support. Some elders are some of the most vulnerable folks in our community — be a good ally — step up, and keep an eye out for call outs. See if you can donate or help remote health services in anyway
  • Support the arts!! Support small business. So many festivals and events are being cancelled. Download and buy albums and art. From a local artist, Gina Williams

“This isn’t a hobby for many of us, it is our life’s work, and a legitimate career. We invest in the communities we perform at and festivals bring much needed income which sustains these places long after the staging has been packed up. So, I’m calling on our friends and allies. The Arts is our last independent voice. The establishment already has a stronghold of the media and is shutting it down in ways that not even Orwell himself could have imagined.

Please. Instead of stocking up on dunny rolls, support a local artist by buying an album instead of doing a digital download. Or go buy a meal at your local Asian restaurant. Or host a house concert. Or go to a house concert and take a bunch of friends. Or buy that painting.”

  • Stuck at home and want to be politically active? Call all your local MP’s and ask them to #RaiseTheRate permanently, not just a $750 stimulation bonus. Call them EVERY DAMN DAY
  • Learn how to use TikTok and make fun videos on political issues. The Sanders campaign is giving over their tiktok account to supporters — rad idea! Watch and learn here from badass teens.
  • Check out twitter if you aren’t on it and follow and amplify awesome humans (I follow a pretty great list of people who I learn from and who inspire me, and also a few I disagree with for a reality check every now and then) Lots of people say it’s a cesspit — I’ve personally found community and a goto for breaking news, and a vital “signal boost out of the bubble” opportunity for grassroots groups
  • Write a letter to Chelsea Manning to tell her how awesome she is. (WHOA — BEST EDIT EVER — she is out! So have removed the prison address. I guess fangirl on twitter then!) Or other political prisoners. Or hook up with Amnesty for similar. Write old school letters to your local pollies. Harangue your local council for stuff you want to see happen. Write a love letter. (ask my mates for my address if you want to be anonymous obvs)

- More tips on self isolation to come…

Share this if useful. Please be kind if you are leaving comments. Just trying to share my experience as I found it pretty overwhelming and I was in city where I had plenty of networks to tap, and am very lucky in that regard. I will try and add accurate info, and edit if I’m incorrect.

TL; DR — Basically you probably don’t have Corona as of the 13th March. Wash hands, flatten the curve and take normal precautions with vulnerable friends and family. The single most important thing healthy people can do, is care about those that aren’t. And act like it.

Please note that things are moving very quickly and might have changed by the time you read this article!

Nicola Paris

Written by

Grassroots activist. Feminist. Want to save stuff. Own views, Non tax deductible & lightly filtered. May involve feels. patreon.com/nicolaparis T: @peacenicsta

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