Words by Anonymous
I write this as a Junior Doctor, at one of our state’s major public hospitals.
As South Australia’s restrictions ease, we have seen a rapid change in the way people are interacting. The infection control signs are up, the crosses are marking the spots to stand in the coffee shop lines, the arrows are marking the way in supermarket aisles, but people are milling around obliviously.
More than anything, we want to feel as though life has gone back to normal. Unfortunately, this climate is far from normal, and won’t be normal for a long time. Not while the air borders are still open, and not until we have a vaccine, that is, if we have a vaccine.
This week in Adelaide, a situation unfolded representing what could have been massive community spread.
Patient X went about her business, to work her shift in retail where she served ~50 people a day, to the gym, to coffee with a friend. Throughout her day, she bumped into a friend of a friend, she stopped to chat. Pleasantries were exchanged for approximately ten minutes on the footpath, and because it was a bustling narrow strip, she bumped into the friend she was talking to a couple of times.
That’s all it takes.
48 hours after the chat at the coffee shop, Patient X developed a tickle in her throat. She seemingly did the right thing and stayed home, just in case it was the dreaded virus.
I was the friend at the local coffee shop. As mentioned, I am a Junior Doctor, at one of Adelaide’s major hospitals.
For the six days after seeing Patient X, I went about my work, coming into contact with up to 50 staff members, and more than 70 patients across almost all wards of the hospital, including in the Emergency Department. I worked with the Intensive Care team and Medical Emergency Team, the doctors and nurses involved with caring for the sickest people in our hospitals and therefore, our communities. Furthermore, ten of those 50 staff members were Junior Doctors due to change hospital sites the following day, coming into contact with entirely new populations and teams of medical professionals.
On day six of her sore throat, Patient X’s symptoms evolved to a headache and a cough, and she decided it was time to get tested for COVID-19. That result came back positive. She remained in isolation, and contacted all the people she had seen in the last ten days.
By then, it was too late.
Thousands of people could have been infected, even from asymptomatic carriers. These weren’t just people in the general population, where 95% are likely to recover. The people affected included our sickest, and our most vulnerable.
Luckily, the first COVID-19 result in this case was a false positive. Two further negative swabs and two negative serum assays confirmed this false positive case result.
Let us be thankful that this didn’t signal community spread in Adelaide, and take it as a model of how nightmarishly fast this virus could get out from under us.
I urge you to take this as a not-so gentle reminder, that every time you maintain a 1.5m distance, or refrain from hugging your friends, you can save lives, and our quality of non-locked down life.
If you develop symptoms, please do not delay getting tested.