All the things I didn’t know about Track and Trace… Until I was Tracked and Traced
On my first night back in London, I went for dinner and drinks with friends; the next morning, one of them received a positive test result for coronavirus. The test itself was taken as a precaution, following her return from a holiday to a country that was not on the two week quarantine list at the time.
The next evening, I’m sitting on my bed dialling 119, still clinging to the fact that I have a table booked at the Shard on Saturday night, determined to find out if there’s any way I can go. First world problem, I know.
“I took a test today,” I’m telling the 119 lady proudly, having just announced on my family group chat that I walked over 17,000 steps to gag on a swab at a walk-in test centre in Charlton. “So if it comes back negative, can I see my friends?”
“I’m afraid that’s not quite how it works,” she is telling me, her tone strongly implying that I will not be wearing heels this weekend. “You saw her last night and took the test this morning; it’s too soon. The golden period for showing symptoms is usually around five to seven days after exposure, but if you have been in close contact then you must isolate for fourteen days, regardless of results. If you begin to show symptoms, you can order a home test.”
I message my cousin, cancelling Saturday. I also cancel a day trip to Brighton, a few coffees and about nine catch-up brunches.
If someone (anyone) who has tested positive names you as someone with whom they have been in close contact (face to face contact under 1 metre for any length of time, hugging, travelling in a small vehicle together, spending lots of time indoors together - there are more examples listed on the NHS website) you will be sent a text that says something like this:
As you have now been identified as a contact of someone who has recently tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), you must now self-isolate as soon as possible and stay at home until XXX. You must do this even if you do not have symptoms or you get tested and receive a negative result. This is because you may still be infectious with COVID-19. The link below contains more information.
They also include a questionnaire about your current health state, as well as information on the support available to you during self-isolation.
My Tesco order arrives on my doorstep the next evening, consisting of wine, pizza and ice cream, but also chicken soup and lots of green vegetables - as by this point it has dawned on me that there is a chance I may become ill. I also order a thermometer from Amazon and begin obsessively taking my temperature. Friends and family call and message, I begin a free 30 day trial of Britbox and watch 9 episodes of Love Island (season 3, obviously) in one day. The difference between this and the national lockdown is that, here, there is a clear end in sight: in September I will move to Cambridge and begin teacher training. And have brunch in cafes. And wear make up and drink cocktails at bars.
I’m fantasising about all this whilst eating overdone pasta in my pyjamas, but I am very aware that this experience has changed the way I will view socialising from now on. Anyone, anywhere and at any time, can receive a positive test result. Anyone you let closer than two metres could cost you fourteen days of self-isolation.
For the first two days I don’t speak to the girl, who has been one of my best friends since our first year of uni, because I know I am feeling bitter and might say something I regret. This was avoidable, would have been avoided, if she had isolated until receiving her test results. I am aware that this anger is just a feeling, and it will pass; there is no use in being resentful over an unintentional mistake. If she hadn't bothered to take the test at all (which, at the time, was not advised or required by the government) we could be unknowingly infecting many people who are much more vulnerable than us. The thing is, we were all giddy to see each other, and this meant we were sloppy. Our collective attitude towards the entire situation was flimsy; we assumed it would pretty-much-probably-be-fine. In fairness, I imagine most people are assuming this, because it seems that - most times - it has been. Half the people I know are convinced they probably-already-had-it. Being aged twenty one and with no pre-existing health conditions, I am aware that I am part of a demographic carrying the lowest risk of extreme suffering following infection. None of my close friends have shown a single symptom this entire time, even the ones who later tested positive for antibodies.
I am writing this, because I wish I had read it earlier. It is so easy, as a healthy young adult, to hug the friends you have missed with the knowledge that you are unlikely to suffer if you were to catch the virus. But the risk is bigger than showing symptoms: it’s the self isolation, telling your friends they may be carriers, causing your favourite venues to close and people’s wages to be paused.
I have accepted that I will no longer have the time to say goodbye to most of my London friends in person, before I move away from this city. It’s a shame - but it could be so much worse, and would be so much worse for so many other people. The simple reality is this: until there is a cure, every time you let someone closer than two metres, you are risking a Track and Trace text and a two week quarantine. The butterfly effect, for many people, is becoming more dangerous than the virus itself. So, to quote the meme that my Instagram algorithm is convinced I will one day double tap: ‘the pandemic ain’t over, just because you’re over it!’.