By Amber Moncrieff
Yes.. the dreaded virus struck our family for Christmas! Bad luck at the time, but now a bit of a relief to know we have faced it and been okay.
This is a summary of my experience with Covid and as a mum of three boys who also had it. This is this is NOT medical advice, but I'm sharing my to give some insight into what Covid can be like and to offer some tips and links that helped me get through it.
In that week after the notorious nightclub events in Newcastle, it quickly became clear Covid was spreading fast across the region. Within days my Service NSW App lit up with locations I'd been where there had been positive cases suggesting I monitor for symptoms and test if needed.
With Nick still working and our family desperate to celebrate Christmas, we quickly decided to bunker down and try to limit any further exposure. I cancelled social plans and holiday camps for the boys, and Nick was able to isolate away from us. We hoped that any exposure we had wouldn't result in illness and that if we just avoided all but essential human contact, we could make it to the 25th.
Sadly, we didn't. A few days before Christmas we started to get sick. One by one the three boys and I all had symptoms. At first I started to question if it was actually Covid as like many people I've spoken to after infection, you start to wonder what is a real symptom and what isn't. I'll go into more detail about the various symptoms below, but once it was clear the boys and I were all sick, the process of getting tested began!
Luckily we had a couple of packs of rapid antigen tests so I was able to pretty quickly confirm we all had it and needed PCRs (as was mandatory at the time). The image in this article shows the four RATS I did that morning - all showing clear positives.
Annoyingly the first round of PCRs we had later that morning only showed that I was positive as the boys all came back as negative.
So two days later I had to go and queue up again to get them tested even though by that stage they no longer had any symptoms. I just felt it was important to get the official result as it is possible they will continue to test positive on PCRs for some months ahead. I didn't want them to be required to get a PCR down the track and test as a positive case, when in fact it was that they were positive at Christmas.
Two of the boys got a positive result after four and a half days but there was no sign of the third result. Arrrggghh!
In the end I was on the verge of retesting the remaining child after we had waited over 5 days, but instead I saw our local state member, Tim Crackanthorp's post on social media offering to help contact pathology companies if results were delayed more than 3 days. I was really grateful that James from his office followed up and I got that final result 5 and a half days after our sons were tested. Crazy times!
I did get an initial SMS from NSW Health after each of us tested positive with a link to confirm some basic information. No contact tracing at all (which was fine as we hadn’t had any contact before we got sick) and a link to the NSW Health website with information for confirmed cases. I’ve popped the main NSW Health links in the links section below if you are keen to see what they advise.
So, what were the symptoms like? Some similarities, but also different for all of us!
I was double vaxxed and would describe the whole experience as a bad cold. Definitely not as bad as the flu which I had last year, but worse than a mild cold.
For me it was all the classic symptoms of sore throat initially, then body aches, headache, sweats, runny nose and a cough. Plus significant fatigue… I can’t remember a time I’ve watched so much TV laying in bed or on the couch.
For the boys it was much more mild even though none of them are vaccinated yet. Our oldest is nearly 11 and was the one I worried about the most as he’s asthmatic but fortunately his symptoms were limited to just two days of fever (never above 38.5), fatigue, mild cough and a runny nose.
For the 9 year old twins it was even more mild and although both were tired and had runny noses there wasn’t much else to indicate they were sick. One of them vomited once and complained of a sore tummy that night, but that was the worst of his symptoms.
I actually wish the research relating to over 17,000 children with Covid in NSW that I saw this week had been published earlier. It showed the relatively mild symptoms for the vast majority of children who had the Delta variant, even in asthmatic children like our son. There is a lot of fear as a parent, so I think it is important to see actual data vs just relying on anecdotes (including mine in this article!). I’ve put a link in the links section below.
The rules changed several times over the period, including the end of isolation going from 10 to 7 days after testing positive so we were very happy to wake up to an SMS confirming we were all our of isolation in time to say farewell to 2021!
The SMS linked to a customised medical clearance for each of us. I chose to send this to our boys' school as I'm sure most schools will ask for voluntary disclosure of infection and vaccination status for the start of the school year as part of their risk assessments.
- Talk with your household NOW about your strategy if you are exposed or get sick. Not everyone is in a position to isolate based on possible exposure of family members like we did, but if you need to minimise risk of all getting Covid at the same time, it is worth looking at the options. Friends of mine have used their granny flats, caravans, boats or hotels for self-imposed isolation.
- It’s definitely worth having some of the RATs on hand and I found them very accurate. They’re a little bit like a pregnancy test so the line initially was quite light, then got darker, then got lighter again as we recovered. I know they are almost impossible to get at the moment (there is a website that does list locations across Australia that may have some but it is hit and miss in Newcastle - see the links section below) but once they come back into stock I would definitely suggest having at least a couple at home per family member. It is also worth popping your initials and the date on the RAT especially if you have multiple family members sick so you can remember whose result is whose if you are testing a couple of times and keep the tests (note they generally say the result is invalid if read after 15-60 minutes).
- Record your symptoms and dates. This is useful for tracking if you are getting worse or better, but also useful if you need to talk to a doctor or nurse if you need extra support. Remember that the health system is strained at the moment, so unlike people I knew who had Covid a few months ago who had calls from NSW Health to check on them, the onus is now on individuals to reach out if they need help.
- Do not cancel your streaming services until you have had Covid! I've been wondering for a while if we really needed 7 (!!!) streaming services. Well, during Covid we did!
- Prepare a "Covid Kit" yourself now - once you get sick it is hard to get things you need, especially at night. See below.
COVID KIT IDEAS
Please remember for all of these that you don't need massive supplies - please don't don't wipe out the local supermarket or chemist.
- Pain relief - it is worth having some paracetamol and ibuprofen available. Our oldest son and I definitely used these during the first couple of days of symptoms.
- Thermometer - check yours works and doesn't need fresh batteries etc.
- Masks - necessary if you are going to try to isolate within your home from others who have Covid. N95 masks give better protection than cloth or surgical masks if you can get some.
- Disinfectant wipes and spray - again, these are useful if you are isolating at home with positive cases. These mean you can easily wipe down surfaces you have to share such as door handles or bathroom taps.
- Pulse Oximeter - this is optional but I wish I'd had one. They measure pulse and blood oxygen levels and they can be bought from chemists. My Apple Watch has a version of this, but it would have been reassuring to have had a proper one I could have used easily with the kids.
- Tissues - we went through a couple of boxes in a few days between the four of us, so worth having a couple of boxes ready.
- Medicines - luckily I'd only recently filled my son's asthma medication script, so we didn't have to worry about that. But if you know you are running low on regular medication, get your refill now.
- For other groceries - I'd say it depends if you have someone outside the house who can help with groceries. While the stores deliver, there is obviously a delay. So it's worth having some extra simple meal supplies or frozen meals at the ready.
- Were the kids ok? Yes, as outlined above they all had various symptoms, but none were very sick and all were seemingly fully recovered within 4 days.
- How long until you felt better? I was ok after a week, but still had a bit of a cough (which NSW Health says can go on for weeks) and felt a bit tired and weak for another week.
- Will you still get a booster? I wasn’t yet due for a booster when I contracted Covid but had planned to get boosted. The official medical discharge letter NSW Health messaged me says I could be exempt from a mandatory vaccination for 6 weeks and the website says you can have a vaccination any time as long as you are recovered. I'll wait a little longer to get maximum benefit from my next shot.
- Can you get Covid again? Yes. The NSW Health website says I wouldn’t need to isolate for a month after infection if exposed again but after that I would, presumably because the immunity wears off. I’d hope it lasts a bit longer! From cases studies I've seen in the UK and US it appears you can get it again after a few months, probably similar to normal flu like viruses.
- How long did you test positive for? I did a few RATs over the 10 days before and during my infection. They stopped showing a positive result at day 8 after first symptoms. Apparently I can test positive on a PCR for several weeks and even months, so it is important to disclose this when being tested (some testing clinics ask, some don’t) and trying to assess what to do if you test positive again.
- What showed positive results first - PCR or RAT? Our rapid antigen tests were more accurate. On the morning we all tested positive at home on the RATs, only one of us (me) tested positive 2 hours later on the PCRs. As outlined above, this meant I had to get the boys tested a second time to tell me what I already knew. So I'd say if you have symptoms and have a positive RAT, assume it is right, even if a PCR says negative. Note the rules have changes about RATs - when we did them you had to have a PCR if you had a postive RAT. But now you don't, although you now need to report positive RATs via Service NSW (via the Covid Resources section on the app).
- Did Nick get it? No, we moved him away from us the second we realised that there was a good chance we could get it until we had passed the infectious period. So a total of over a fortnight! I know some people have chosen to try to get all the household exposed at the same time to 'get it over with' which is a decision for them (and not recommended by NSW Health). But Nick is asthmatic and nearly 50 so he is higher risk, despite being boosted. For now is doing everything he can to avoid Covid.
The three NSW Govt pages that are key are linked below. Even though the rules and recommendations change regularly, the link addresses stay the same. These are the main sources of information and the official rules you should look at vs what people are saying on social media etc.
- NSW Contacts Rules (ie, 'I've been near someone with Covid - what do I do?'): click here
- NSW Confirmed Case Guidelines ('I've tested positive - what do I do?'): click here
- NSW Recovery and Release from Isolation ('When I can leave isolation and what are the longer term impacts?'): click here
- SMH article on recent research results about 17,500 NSW kids with Covid. It is summarised in this article by co-author of the research, Dr Phoebe Williams - a paediatrician, infectious diseases physician and a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney: click here.
- Rapid antigen test finder - https://findarat.icom.au/
Anyway, I hope my experience is helpful and that if Covid visits your home you come through it safely. From everything I've seen it is mild in the majority of cases, but if it's not - then reach out for medical assistance quickly.