A December Quarantine Story

by | Dec 11, 2020 | COVID-19, Johannesburg | 22 comments

This week — the second week of December — is the busiest week of the year on the South African social calendar. It’s normally the week when people in Joburg wrap up everything at work or school, celebrate at year-end parties and braais (barbecues), then pack their bags and leave town until January.

I was planning to be one of those people. A few weeks ago — when no one knew South Africa’s covid numbers were about to skyrocket again — I planned a multi-stop road trip to the Western Cape with a friend, leaving on 16 December and returning on 4 January. My week leading up to the trip (this week) was packed with activities — light festivals, meals with friends, holiday parties, book launches, and blogging missions. I woke up this past Sunday feeling super excited about the week ahead.

Then I found out I’d been in the same room with someone who tested positive for covid and had to go into quarantine.

In hindsight, I’m surprised it took so long for this to happen to me. I’m also surprised by how unprepared I was, and how quickly a brief encounter during a pandemic can upturn the lives of a whole bunch of unaffiliated people.

How Quarantine Happened

Last Saturday morning, a friend stopped by my house for coffee and brought along her seven-year-old son. They stayed for less than an hour. It was chilly and drizzling so we didn’t sit outside. We sat on opposite sides of the room, and a door was open, but we weren’t wearing masks.

Right after coffee, my friend and her son had covid tests. They had planned to take an international flight on Monday and needed to get tested before.

Around noon on Sunday, my friend messaged to tell me she had tested negative. But her son tested positive.

It took a few minutes for the impact of this news to sink in. My friend had to isolate, cancel her trip, and notify the families of her son’s friends, many of whom he’d played with that week. This really sucked. Then my thoughts turned to myself.

Although my friend’s son had not come very close to me, he had been in my house for a substantial period of time, sat on the couch, touched my things. There was no denying I’d been in contact with a covid-positive person. I was exposed.

Suddenly this word, EXPOSED — which already sounds kind of sinister when you say it inside your head — took on a whole new meaning.

My brain cycled back through all the people I saw and everything I did over the previous 24 hours. Right after my friend and her son left my house, Thorsten — of Dagwood sandwich fame — came over to make paper lanterns for the Brixton Light Festival we had planned to attend the following night. We spent the afternoon together inside my potentially covid-infected house. Thorsten was potentially exposed.

That night I had pizza with three friends from my book club, outdoors at a restaurant, obviously not wearing masks when we ate. Were they all exposed too? What about the sales people at Pick-n-Pay and PNA, where Thorsten and I went shopping for food and lantern supplies? We were masked and sanitized, but…hmm. How does this all work again?

The next morning I went briefly to an outdoor market, wearing a mask. I talked to a few people, bought a pair of earrings, touched the vendor’s card machine. At one point I took my mask off to fiddle with it, as it didn’t fit properly. Was the whole market exposed?

I sprung into action, calling Thorsten, messaging the book club, contacting the earring vendor. “I have people coming for lunch!” said one of my book club friends. “What should I do?” I had no idea.

Plans to attend the Brixton Light Festival were quickly canceled. This was perhaps the saddest cancelation for me, but it was only the first in a long series. Dinner plans, meetings, a book launch I was really looking forward to. Thorsten canceled his company’s year-end braai.

The lanterns turned out so nicely. Sadly they never appeared at the festival and were only enjoyed by the two people who made them. Check out @BrixtonBeautiful for photos from the light festival.

I wasn’t prepared to quarantine at home for ten days. I spent Monday morning scrambling to make online shopping orders. Trixie needed kitty litter but that would have to wait.

Ahhhh, back to good old quarantine, taking countless photos of my cat in the bathtub because what else is there to do?

I canceled my December road trip. The friend I’d planned to travel with is diabetic and Cape Town is a covid hot spot. It suddenly seemed ridiculous that we had even been considering still going.

And then, the #funnynotfunny part: Three days later after the initial news, my friend’s son retested for covid and he was negative. He never had symptoms. All of his friends and family tested negative. That first test was clearly a false positive.

We all immediately freed ourselves from quarantine. It felt great to mask up and go food-shopping again. But, whoa: This was a reality check. Meanwhile, South Africa’s health minister has officially announced we’re experiencing a second wave. Today there were more than 8000 new positive cases nationwide.

I have an entirely new outlook on the virus after this experience. I let my guard down in recent weeks and I’ve suddenly realized how lucky I am not to have gotten sick — or been indirectly responsible for another person’s illness — until now.

I’m not sure what the point of this story is. After months of lockdown journaling earlier this year, I guess I want to put into words how it felt when lockdown suddenly returned for me. And maybe I just want to remind everyone, myself included, that this stupid pandemic hasn’t gone away.

Happy holidays.

22 Comments

  1. Ruth

    THANK YOU for a very sobering post…. but so sorry that all your plans (and those of your friends) were so disrupted. Hope your December improves (carefully) from here on in!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Ruth! I guess canceled plans are better than covid 🙂

      Reply
  2. Albert

    I have less and less faith in the covid test. Way too many of my friends had tested positive and then zero symptoms.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yes, I also find that aspect very troubling. We’re at the mercy of a very faulty tool.

      Reply
  3. stanmorrison72

    Heather, one positive of this is that you have had a very accurate “test run”. It has given us all food for thought and brought the whole thing home to us. Thank you for the thoughtful blog.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks a lot, Stan. I thought it would be good to share.

      Reply
  4. dizzylexa

    Oh no but better safe than sorry. Our grandson and a friends daughter have both tested positive after attending the Rage in Ballito but are asymptomatic which is so scary as how many of those walk amongst us? I’m now neurotic when a young adult comes anywhere near me. Infact I’m not so keen on going out anymore unless it’s not crowded and preferable in a wide open space.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Oh dear. The whole Rage thing is terrifying!

      Reply
  5. Maarten

    Hi Heather. Yes the whole world stops when you hear that you are Exposed. You did the right thing to put everything on hold and be extra careful. We also are at home most of the time, try not to meet to many people and only do the necessary things as we plan to fly overseas to meet our family for Christmas. We had and still have long discussions about this but we decided to go and make a plan how to meet our family. In small portions of 2 people at a time, no hugging, no kissing, no shaking hands only elbows and feet…… terrible as Dutchies are people who like to hug and touch each other….. But safety first and try no to be exposed. Hopefully you can enjoy your trip at a later stage with your friend. Don’t cancel but postpone.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Maarten. Yes, it’s hard to figure out the right thing to do.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Urban

    Hi Heather. I’m so glad it was a false alarm for you; the fact that so many people are asymptomatic but can transmit is one of the worst things about this pandemic.
    I’ve been pretty cautious due to my age etc but have twice recently enjoyed lunch in well ventilated and uncrowded establishments. Now I’m very likely to put such outings on hold. 🙁
    I hope your Cape trip will be able to go ahead safely sooner rather than later.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Margaret. Yes it’s very frustrating…As soon as you feel like it might be okay to relax a bit, the pandemic tightens the reigns again.

      Reply
  7. David Bristow

    I think the point of the story is simply to share the story, so we all take a step or two back. So thanks for that.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      You’re welcome!

      Reply
  8. AutumnAshbough

    It’s frustrating, but yeah, it’s a wake up call. At least you didn’t ignore it, unlike the idiot cop in my neighborhood who just had his FOURTH COVID party, at a time when we’re almost at 1 person in every 20 being infected in Los Angeles.

    Reply
  9. Nancy McDaniel

    wow, what a scare. I am so sorry you had to cancel all your plans but it was so the right thing to do. Please be careful. It’s getting way worse here in the USA now too. No plans for me for a while. (But the lanterns are beautiful)

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Nancy. Yeah we’d all been hoping our second wave would hold off a bit longer here but I guess the virus had other plans. What can you do…

      Reply
  10. Brenda R

    I’m so sorry to see this.
    I’m in Seattle and while I have a dear friend in NY who got it early and is now a long-hauler, no one I really know has died except friends-of, neighbors-of etc. Then this week, I see the loss of Dawn Lindberg.
    She died thousands of miles away and I haven’t seen her since 1964, but she was someone I once knew, before here career started and her loss is real. We were in art class together at Wits and always the organizer, she scooped me up and added me to her huge circle of friends. I was invited to parties and had some guitar lessons from Des. Even her Dad was kind to me when I mowed down their gatepost with my Yank Tank. Then I left SA and was careless about keeping up with anybody. I did hear about their folksinging success but it wasn’t until Google that I heard about her work in theatre.
    Her death, so far away, has come home to me.
    Be careful, be well!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I’m so sorry Brenda 😢

      Reply
  11. Stephen

    Hi Heather – also had a potential “exposure” recently, and then subsequent worries. I found the below helpful – in summary: you are at “low risk” to get the virus if you exposure was for less than 15 minutes and distance between you and the person more than a metre (current SA gov guidelines). It also seems you are also less likely to get the virus from surface contamination, and it seems unlikely that you can pass it on on the same day you receive it if you are indeed infected.

    https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2020/10/exposed-to-covid-19-how-soon-contagious

    https://english.elpais.com/society/2020-10-28/a-room-a-bar-and-a-class-how-the-coronavirus-is-spread-through-the-air.html

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Stephen. This is helpful!

      Reply

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