Frustration as self-isolation advice varies


It just doesn’t add up by Jess Warren

Jess Warren
Jess Warren

ARRIVING home after reporting on Wokingham Pride, my phone pinged.

Was it a text from someone I saw at the event? Maybe a delivery update on one of my recent online-purchases?

No, it was the message that no one wants to read – the NHS Test and Trace app telling me to self-isolate for four days.

Horror filled my mind. Had I just been a superspreader, infecting all those I spoke to at Pride?

I had no symptoms, but did I have covid?

Slamming shut my bedroom door, I read and re-read the alert.

“The app has detected that you have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus,” it read. “Because you’re a contact of someone who tested positive, you can book a test to see if you have Covid-19.”

Determined to act quickly, I clicked-through the links to book a PCR test.

Did I want to drive to Bracknell, or do a walk-in at the University of Reading? I wasn’t sure, I just wanted the quickest option.

Speeding my way through the questions, my birth date and NHS number reeling in my mind, I tried to book a test for that same afternoon.

I couldn’t.

There was a system error.

Backpedaling, I went back through the booking system to see if I could get a test for the next morning.

Hoorah, I had secured one. All hopes of a lie-in dashed, I was due at the University of Reading’s London Road walk-in centre at 8am on Sunday.

First action taken, I then texted my friend. We were due out for dinner in two hours’ time, and I had to cancel. I then alerted another, whom I was meeting on Sunday for a walk around Virginia Water – frivolities would have to wait.

Sending a voice message to my family’s Whatsapp group, I explained what had happened along with a panicked screenshot of my self-isolation timer.

For the next four days, meals would be left outside my bedroom door, along with alternating cups of tea and water.

Relieved I had booked a test, I then Googled the latest self-isolation guidance from the Government.

It said self-isolate for 10 days, but don’t take a test.

So why had I been told four days, and to book a test? It didn’t add up.

Ruminating on this, the next morning I asked a volunteer at the PCR test centre what the current self-isolation guidance was.

They told me there was a “change of procedure”.

I didn’t have to self-isolate prior to the test, and only had to self-isolate if it came back positive.

Seemingly three pieces of contradictory advice: the app, the helpline and the test centre. What did this mean? Could I go sit in a rowdy pub on Sunday to watch the Euros?

Was that morally right? I wasn’t sure, because the app and Government website said I should lock myself away.

Returning home confused and frustrated, I stuck with the app and hid in my bedroom.

Where could I find the right answer?

I rang Reading Borough Council’s covid hotline. Since the advice I had been given was at one of their test centres, I returned to them for clarity.

The telephone operator was surprised to hear the isolation advice I had been given, and said it was completely wrong.

Yes,I had to self-isolate for four days. No, I couldn’t watch the Euros in a pub. So why had I been told otherwise? Surely this would lead to numerous people, all expected to be isolating, roaming the streets?

And why did the app say four days, and government site 10?

The telephone operator explained, I had actually been in contact with the symptomatic person six days prior to being pinged on the app.

So for six days, I could have unknowingly been spreading coronavirus.

Who had I seen in that time? My partner’s family, my parents and sister, 15 volunteers at a community event, a friend who works in healthcare. I’d been to three different gyms – don’t ask – a pub, a restaurant, and Wokingham Pride. What had I done?

My test result came back, I was negative.

Two more days of self-isolation, and I could head out into the world again.

I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t want to.

Jess Warren is the deputy editor at Wokingham.Today

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