Sat meekly in the hairdresser's chair, I listened in muted horror to a story about someone who had booked a driving test, but had been told to self-isolate few days before because a housemate had had a positive COVID result. Though asymptomatic, he had gone to get his own test and when it came back negative, he came out of self-isolation and went to the exam. Yes I was a coward for not pointing out the flaws in this particular action-plan, but throw me a bone will ya? I mean, pointy scissors were snip-snipping inches from my not-so-poker-face!
It's completely understandable though. Sigh. There's a dreadful sense of fear and frustration in the air since Saturday night's announcement. People are tired of paring down their lives, or else perhaps feel nothing they do will make a difference. We all crave an end-point. It's highlighted how goals and endpoints are comfortingly grounding. And GPs, though awesome, are just as wholly unconnected to the constructors of these rules, yet we're being asked to comment on them on a daily basis. That's also understandable; we're used to putting together lots of medical puzzle pieces resulting in a nice tidy investigation plan, or even a crisply-annunciated diagnosis. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Dr Watson, albeit without the high body count. But my usual "if only I had a crystal ball!" quip seems suddenly very dismissive now. People are asking "why now...why us...how long will it last...does it even make a difference...when will it end...?", and whilst I don't have all the answers, I can at least explain the rationale behind (drum-roll) self-isolation.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. The COVID virus gets into the body via droplets, then multiplies. This brings all the virus particles to a level where they might be detected by e.g. a swab test, and can cause mischievous symptoms such as a persistent cough, loss of sense of smell, or fever. Usually it takes a few days to reach detectable levels, and up to 2 weeks to produce symptoms. This is known as the incubation period; sounds like a cute cosy fortnight in a snug warm blanket but really it's an annoying 2 weeks of waiting for something or nothing. Quite literally. So by the time you have symptoms, you'd probably have detectable levels on a swab. Hence why if you're feeling well, and you've been asked to stay home merely because you were in contact with a friend who tested positive (or had The Call from Track&Trace), your test may be normal. Remember your virus might not reach full levels until the 14th day! This is why the NHS doesn't offer testing to well people who have been unlucky enough to be told to self-isolate for 14 days, because of an infected contact. Chances are, sit it out for 14 days, and if you haven't become unwell, you're safe enough to be released back into the wild. But please, if you’re asymptomatic, don't try to shorten your self-isolation by arranging a test - a normal/negative result will not give you accurate reassurance that you are COVID-free as you could potentially be incubating it.
Let's leave testing for people with symptoms, yeah? Which means if your GP tells you you do need a swab test, please book it online at https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or phone 119. Make sure your digitally-deprived friends/family/neighbours know you will help them to do this, if necessary. You're in danger of a £1000 fine if you choose to ignore this advice. Sorry to be the harbinger of bad tidings, but, well, it's enshrined in law.
If you know someone who is imprisoned in this way for 2 weeks, there's a handy organisation called NHS Responders in York who can help out with essential shopping and collection of medicines, as it's important that people in self-isolation don't leave their house. Though my junior editor is gleefully pointing out that anyone reading this would have already offered such help themselves. Thank goodness he hasn't learned how to eyeroll. Yet. But the point is, we need to spread this message further. Go forth my pretties, and seek out those in need of extra assistance. Nobody needs to be alone. Ring your friendly GP and we can put you in touch with NHS Responders.
Now then amigos, mark the 2nd of December on your calendar. Try to support everyone around you who is keenly feeling that these restrictions are all-reaching. Let's instead make hope stretch everywhere, omnipresent, as captured in the hauntingly beautiful words of 17th century poet John Mason: "a sea without a shore, a sun without a sphere".