I feel like I have been living within a movie set. For the last 14 days I have been in a unique quarantine, along with others in the townhouse complex in Southbank. Many of us have previously experience lockdowns and in Victoria we’ve even lived through curfews. This latest situation took things to another level for me.
On Sunday, 13 June at 9.24 pm, I received a startling text message; “This is a message from the Victorian Department of Health. A shared facility (my location) has been identified as a possible COVID-19 exposure site.” It was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and my Monday was highjacked. I was instructed to get tested at the newly established pop-up testing site across the road from my apartment complex Monday morning and remain isolated until further notice. A serious directive, this virus was on the move and it must be awfully close.
My neighbours and I dutifully formed a sombre line at the outdoor testing site. Physical distance was observed without comment, in fact it was more than the recommended 1.5 metres. We were calm, doing what we had to do and honestly, we were wary of everyone. As with any of these situations rumours were also spreading, we’d all be quarantined; we’d be tested and released on a negative test; half the complex was going to be locked down. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) were collecting the data they needed to make the decision. Monday was a long day in isolation, awaiting the results and further information. Initially we were instructed to quarantine for 11 days, on the review of the testing this was extended to 14 days and the whole community was now involved, not just the section we lived. No one was to leave their property and arrangements were being made for us to access supplies.
For me the first few days were the hardest. There was uncertainty. I fully accepted the stay at home orders, I strategised what would make this easier for me. I considered the worst case scenario and worked back from that – how to make it manageable. What heightened most, was the view from my window, some people were going about their day unaware of the situation around them – or did they not care? I kept my self-talk in check and tried to think the best intent was being exercised. I also reminded myself that people making decisions are also human and as such fallible. It was like I recalled from my volunteering days with the SES. While the intelligence is being gathered there is no clarity. We had multiple visitors, all completely covered, trying to understand how the virus had spread in our complex.
Queue the movie director. From my lounge room window the only people I have seen have been covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment (PPE). My view is merely a slither of what is happening around me. Thanks to the images broadcast and photographs shared, I know that an entrance tent has been erected forming a barrier to and from the outside. Movies ‘Apollo 13′ merged with the aptly named ‘Outbreak’ provide the best representation of the setting. A team of ever willing concierges log and arrange delivery of the necessities and niceties I’ve purchased or had dropped off by friends. Porters dressed in blue follow strict protocols to enter each area of the complex. They knock on my door, I speak through the door, they leave and I wait. Then I mask up to retrieve my delivery. Care is taken to ensure no-one simultaneously opens doors in our stairwells. The infrastructure and planning undertaken and provided by DHHS has been extraordinary.
You may be thinking doom and gloom by this stage. Admittedly, it is a serious situation. However, like any significant situation there is always an upside and I was determined to find the good. Connecting a community isolated from the outside was an opportunity to be harnessed. DHHS were hosting a community forum to keep us updated with the changing situation and their agile plans on a daily basis. The faces of my many neighbours now had names and voices. We were all experiencing something slightly traumatic, unique and definitely bonding.
Facebook became a place of sharing and connection. I have had to ‘revise my despise’ of the aforementioned social site. Facebook has been a terrific way for residents to communicate and organise activities to support each other. We have discovered the variety of animals living in our community, the range of creativity occurring in each home and a DJ emerged in our midst. Prompted by the blasting of the Queen classic ‘I Want To Break Free’ one morning early in our lockdown, a thread began building a quarantine playlist for a bit of fun. That became a Saturday night balcony party of sorts, some were dancing on their own. Despite the cold we rugged up and enjoyed the music, along with the many signs of life hearing our masked neighbours chatting across their balconies. Groups of neighbours teamed up to play trivia online organised by the resident kindergarten teacher who also set up times to connect with some of the kids in a Facebook room. I am sure there are some grateful parents. We’ve had dogs collected for walks, cats taken to the Vet. Honestly, I suspect I don’t know half the events that were kindly and efficiently resolved.
I have been humbled by the generosity and optimism demonstrated by strangers. A neighbour in a nearby complex has devoted her free time to making a difference. She organised free online fitness, recitals and motivated the Arts Centre to light the spire yellow for our quarantine period. This ‘Angel on the Outside’ also delivered pizza’s to those who ordered them on Sunday night. We had other shows of support including stilt walkers visiting holding up ‘Thank You’ signs. The acknowledgement that we were being thought about, was something I benefitted from. Actually I had a small cry at this gesture; it was touching. I am in awe of the many wonderful people I live amongst and must say it has made a difference to my ability to cope. Thank you to those new friends.
Humans connected by adversity rise and work together. The big challenge as we exit quarantine is to move into the ‘next normal’, and continue to work together to support our small community with kindness and understanding. As I await the 11.59 pm end of quarantine I am experiencing a mixture of emotions. Relief and elation that we’re nearly through, anxiety about going beyond my front door and gratitude for all the support we’ve received. I also have a genuine sadness about saying farewell to the wonderful support team I may never meet in person to thank!