In March, my husband and I completed 14 days of full self-isolation. This means that we didn’t leave our house once, for fourteen days, not even to walk our frustrated dog. We survived mostly on frozen food, because Ireland does not have a Postmates equivalent, and the country’s supermarkets were under so much pressure at the beginning of “quarantine” that online orders were required two weeks in advance. For that reason, family members were doing our grocery shopping and leaving the bags outside the front door, so we wouldn’t infect them.
We were so gung-ho with our isolation that we didn’t even realize until day 12 (when our country’s published guidelines finally appeared on doorsteps) that we were allowed to go out into our enclosed back garden. We were bored, narky, and restless for fourteen days. We power-cleaned the house, only to create piles of rubbish and bags of clothes that we couldn’t bring anywhere to dispose of or donate. We began to get on each other’s nerves. Slowly but surely, the days began to merge together. We moved from our bed to the couch, back to our bed. We became lethargic. Around day eight, the mountain felt too high to climb. We were halfway there and unsure we could finish. The following 48 hours passed agonizingly slowly, and then — a breakthrough! — the last three days relatively flew. The relief we felt walking away from our front door was experienced physically and emotionally. It was an experience I’d love never to repeat.
We did all this, not knowing if we had Coronavirus, or just the regular ‘flu — because we were refused a COVID-19 test.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand why we didn’t get a test. The criteria in Ireland in late March changed to prioritize the testing of frontline and healthcare workers and high-risk groups, as the supply of tests struggled to meet demand. At the same time, I’d love to know if we had it or not, especially as scientists around the world move closer to an understanding of whether or not a COVID-19 survivor can be reinfected or, more importantly, continue to spread the virus.
When we contacted our GP, a number of our symptoms were not yet known symptoms of Coronavirus. Sore throat, headache, and muscle fatigue were among the not-yet recognized symptoms we were displaying. However, my chills, the wheeziness of my asthmatic husband and his fever all sounded to our GP like we were symptomatic of the virus. He referred us for a test, advised us to self-isolate, and let us know that it might be up to a week before we would hear back from the HSE (The Irish Health Service).
Five days later, we received a text saying our test had been canceled.
For my part, I wasn’t convinced we had Coronavirus at first, assuming that COVID-19 symptoms would be more severe than the ones we had experienced. I was also aware of one prominent symptom we did not experience; the loss of taste and smell. However, once I described our symptoms to a group of friends who had tested positive, they confirmed that everything we described was something they had experienced.
We were refused our test at the end of March. It is now June, and today Ireland moved into ‘Phase 2’ of the “lockdown” exit plan. For the last three weeks, Ireland’s populace has been allowed to meet in “socially-distanced” groups of less than four people. From today, that number rises to six, and sports clubs are allowed to return to training in groups of less than fifteen people.
Throughout phase 1, a large percentage of Irish people have shown themselves to be unable to successfully social-distance or adhere to Government guidelines. Even this week, as more retailers opened, videos of non-socially distant queues are all over social media. So, as the allowed numbers expand, and more and more offices and shops re-open around the country, it would be a relief for us to know if we have already had Coronavirus.
For example, it’s been over three months since I saw my elderly father, for fear of bringing the virus to him. At the very least, if I knew I had already had and recovered from Coronavirus, I could risk traveling to see him with appropriate social-distancing. Without this knowledge, I am too worried to even risk that.
I understand that it hasn’t been proven that people who have recovered from Coronavirus are immune to being re-infected — but it hasn’t been disproven, either. The World Health Organisation have suggested that the positive test results returned for previously-infected people in South Korea were “false positives”, triggered by particles of the virus in dead lung cells, making them neither active nor infectious.
I am hoping that antibody tests will become available and that scientists will be able to confirm whether or not the presence of antibodies can help prevent a second round of symptomatic infection, or more importantly, prevent the asymptomatic super-spread. At the very least, it would be a huge relief to know that we would not have to shut ourselves in the house for 14 days again.
Below is a video blog of our time in quarantine.