I was looking through my phone photo detritus from the time of the original closures (which were not as strict as the July to October 2021 ones, during which I mostly stuck to photographingsunsets rather than sign-of-the-times images).
Early on, this kind of sign was unusual enough that I photographed it especially:
I never figured out if the placement of a hand hygiene sign next to a cheap will preparation sign was deliberate, and if so, intended to be funny, shocking, or just attention-getting:
Speaking of bleak, we played one game of Pandemic but it got awfully real with outbreaks in East Asia and Russia:
Our local Flight Centre was lookng forward to welcoming us back for several months. It closed permanently nearly a year ago now:
I’ve never been to a ANZAC Day dawn ceremony in my life, but I did happen to be awake at dawn, so went and stood in my yard as was the style at the time.
Someone somewhere was audibly playing The Last Post.
Starting 5pm Friday July 9, we could only travel within 10km of your home for exercise/recreation in Sydney. I’m not generally a fan of bright-siding these restrictions (“my workaholic husband has ditched the corporate rat race, any chance we could stick with widespread house arrest, it’s been just great for his blood pressure?”) but it does inspire a certain amount of scouring one’s vicinity for places to be. The ocean beaches are all slightly more than 10km as the crow flies from me, but some of the harbour beaches such as Milk Beach remained accessible.
I walked with a friend there during daytime and after that decided that a family excursion at sunset was called for:
The other reason to frantically find family excursions, as I told my family gloomily, was in case the rules got stricter, which indeed they did, a 5km radius from August 16. So the evening of August 15 we traipsed out once more to farewell Milk Beach for the time being, not, seemingly, the only ones:
The end of March was the season of the five reasons. It was also the beginning of the ongoing wet year. Each day we met our exercise (and general outdoor) quota by walking down to the nearest park and cycling: in V’s case riding his new mountain bike over wet turf and in A’s case, carefully paddling and balancing her pushbike as she learned to ride carefully down a hill.
On the way home on one trip, we heard, metres behind us, a small voice saying crossly “I bet that little girl”—A—”is allowed to…!”
I assumed that the question was about seeing friends or grandparents or having competitive sneezing parties, so called back to them to ask what they wanted to know. The father said not to mind but I insisted and he said “she wants to know if that little girl is allowed to eat mushrooms growing on the street”, allowing me to comfortably assert that A is not allowed to eat mushrooms found growing on the street. Neighbourhood norms, cemented.
NSW is encouraging all people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Since I have what I assume are seasonal allergies, I meet the testing criteria and probably will continuously for months to come, so I’ve had a few tests. Curious? Here’s what you need to know.
Test access has got much easier. I’ve heard from several people that they don’t understand how to get tested, because a friend of theirs tried in March and their doctor flat-out declined to refer them without clear signs of pneumonia, so what is this stuff and nonsense about how everyone with symptoms should get testing?
If you want to learn about tests before you get one, try and find someone who got tested recently to share their experience. Here’s mine:
no referral is required
testing is readily available and swiftly administered
results are often available same-day
Check the date and location on anyone’s testing story before deciding testing sounds too hard and inaccessible.
Here’s the testing procedure at the drive-through clinic I went to:
a person in full PPE approaches the car and takes your personal details: name, address, phone, email, symptoms, employment status (do you work in health or aged care, or no?), risk factors (recent travel, contact with known or suspected cases)
you drive forward to a second person who reads the details back to you
that person does the deeply unpleasant thing you’ve probably seen videos of where they put a swab up your nose and into your sinuses, wave it around, and withdraw it a couple of seconds after it becomes really really difficult to tolerate
you drive away
you are asked to behave as if you are positive until you get that result. This means strictly staying at home and minimising contact with household members.
later that day you get a text message asking if you opt into result-by-text and if you do, usually some hours later you get your result.
I asked them what they do with children and they said, as of late May, for children they are doing throat swabs rather than nasal ones.
They only acted a little bit startled when I reported that I had had a runny nose for 12 weeks. (Some guidance on how regularly to get re-tested with symptoms that don’t change would be handy!)
I’ve not been positive (and hope not to be prior to vaccine or effective anti-virals!) so I do not know what additional things happen if you are positive, presumably contact tracing and fairly high levels of health monitoring kick off from there.
If you do want a doctor to examine you, look for a “Respiratory Clinic” on the same page that lists the testing clinics. The respiratory clinics are clinics where the doctors are already wearing full PPE and have good patient isolation set up (eg, no waiting room, you wait in your car). This saves you and your regular GP considerable fuss around them needing to don full PPE and change their waiting practices for you, and are a good place to head with cold/flu symptoms this year.
Some employers are beginning to announce transitions to remote-friendly or all-remote workforces even after office work is judged safe again. This has a lot of potential upsides in reducing commutes, in increasing job opportunities outside of established tech centres, in giving people access to their preferred working styles.
But there’s also a lot of potential downsides where employees personally pay to recreate the parts of the office experience they need and nevertheless find that their career tops out early or that they’re summoned or semi-summoned back to a tech centre just as they’ve started to realise the benefits of remote work.
Thus, just as I’ve written before about questions you should ask when hired into an existing remote position, you should ask a similar set for a company or position transitioning to remote work, to make sure that it is invested for the long term and is clear about any career or financial sacrifices you will be required to make to be remote.
Are there limits on where employees can be located? It’s quite common for remote employees to be required to be based in certain timezones, countries, or states/provinces where the employer already has some kind of established presence.
Is this transition in fact permanent, or is there a review date? Moving away from a city is a very large investment, often in direct costs but definitely in opportunity costs. Best to make such a decision on a strong commitment from an employer to a long time frame.
Will compensation be adjusted downwards for employers who relocate to an area with lower cost of living (or lower market salaries)? There are some remote-first or remote-friendly employers who pay the same salary no matter where employees are located, but also many which pay against local cost of living or local market conditions.
Will all remote compensation be adjusted downwards on the assumption that everyone will leave high cost of living areas? Hopefully not! Because some people have substantial investments in their current area of residence, eg commitments to their partner’s career or to their local family or friends, or to the cultural scene or their hobbies, or to retaining the option to leave their current employer for another that will require them to be office-based.
Will employees who move to an area with less generous minimum benefits have their benefits cut? Eg, will they lose days of vacation or carer’s leave? Will their insurance be revised in line with their new residence’s minumums?
Will there be formal limits on which positions are available remotely?
Even in the software, creative, and research positions that can be done remotely, it’s common for companies to not allow all positions to be remote. Here’s some possibilities for what this might look like:
you can’t become an executive if you’re remote
you can’t become a people manager at all if you’re remote
you can’t do security-sensitive or personnel-sensitive work if you’re remote
you can’t achieve a certain job level if you’re remote
Best to know!
If the company is indeed open to all positions being remote, how are they going to ensure equality of opportunity?
If there are going to still be offices, it may in theory be possible to become an executive or a high level staff member while remote… but it eventually emerges that no one is actually doing those jobs remotely, that those folks are all office-based.
What does the employers plan for developing remote staff careers look like and how will they audit its success?
Will there be training and resources for workers transitioning to remote, for managers who are remote or managing remote workers, etc?
There are specific skills required to manage and be part of both all-remote teams and mixed-remote-office teams. Will these be taught to employees? Will there be trained support for specific situations that may arise (eg, it may be more difficult to reach remote employees in a suspected emergency)?
Will there be financial support for the costs of remote working?
Remote working passes the office maintenance costs onto employees, eg substantial extra energy costs (particularly in areas with very cold winters or very hot summers), additional space, need for office furnishings, higher Internet bills and larger mobile plans, IT equipment, etc. Will the employer reimburse these costs and to what extent?
Ideally this support isn’t too specific. Eg, “we’ll pay for a co-working space”: co-working spaces usually have open office plans and quite a few involve hotdesking (especially if you’re part-time). They’re thus generally not suitable for people who have a lot of sensitive meetings (ie most managers or HR staff), some people who need physical accommodations, or people who are unable to work well in open plan offices.
Conversely, “we’ll pay to fit out your home office”: establishing a home office requires that people have or can afford to move to a place with an extra room, and usually that there are only one or at most two people in the home who need a home office.
Flexibility is better.
Will business travel be mandatory or strongly encouraged?
Quite a lot of remote teams rely on an mandatory or near-mandatory all-hands in-person get together once or twice a year for team building purposes. This may be an easy trade for some to get the benefits of remote work, but it may not be for others, especially for primary carers.
This question may be especially relevant for people who are going to be one of the few remotes on their team and may be expected to travel to the office regularly; and also for managers, who are occasionally expected to travel out to each of their remote reports periodically.
Will there be allowed to be children/dependants in the house during working hours and are there restrictions on their care arrangements? At least when schools and daycares are open, it’s common for employers to insist that if there are children/dependants living with a remote worker, they must have a carer who isn’t the worker. It’s possible (jurisdiction dependent) for them to insist that the house must not have dependants present in work hours at all.
my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.
Every time I say [not to call the police on neighbours if it’s avoidable] somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they had to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?
I have a bunch of experience with being conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional. (Hot tip by the way: never phrase something this way to your boss, because while you may think you’re helping them understand you better, they are thinking “wow, ‘conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional’ is such a neat way of phrasing things in a performance review!”)
I’m fine making rules. I’m fine following rules.
What I’m not good at is breaking rules. I definitely do not personally come equipped with good intuitions about which emergencies or unique circumstances should cause me to break rules and if someone finally talks me into following their intuitions I have a huge struggle with it.
I have a specific and dramatic illustration of this. One day several years ago, in fact the 1st September 2012, I was starting to feel “fluey” while trying to fit my toddler son for shoes (he kept running away screaming and I was soooo tired). I asked my husband to walk home, I admired the new baby spring leaves on the trees in the park as I walked past them and said suddenly “you know, I think I’m about to get really sick, let’s get home now.”
Reader, I did indeed get really sick. I spent the next week in bed drinking apple juice and watching the shadows of leaves dance on my windows. I didn’t bathe because I was too tired and sore. I cried all the time because my all muscles hurt so much.
And there was this spot on my inner left thigh that was especially painful to the touch, like a really bad bruise. Weird.
We didn’t have a thermometer, but if we had, we probably would have found that my temperature was stable at around 40°C for much of that week.
I get ill fairly often, and had a kid in daycare so it was especially true at that time. The preceding year, I’d gone to the doctor to report that I’d been dry coughing until I vomited and that I couldn’t breathe for coughing.
It’s interesting that COVID survivors often call this out as a really abnormal and alarming thing, because my GP told me that day that “it’s just a widdle viwwwwwus, Mama!” and that it was really normal and I should wait it out. (Doctors often address mothers accompanied by young children as “Mum”, or “Mama”, and often baby talk to them.) After that, I inferred that, among my many existing rules about not bothering people, that “coughing until you’re choking” and any symptoms of similar severity are not a sufficient reason to bother doctors.
So, I wasn’t coughing, but I was similarly uncomfortable. Every day on the phone, my mother begged me to see a doctor. Every few hours, my husband begged me, increasingly in tears, to see a doctor. But I didn’t, because that was my rule: doctors don’t like viruses and don’t want to hear about them (Mama).
To be clear I’m not normally remotely that dysfunctional about rules. I assume being in terrible pain and running a fever that was much higher than we realised had pushed me to my absolutely most irrational degree of rule following. But these are the emergencies and unique situations that people will need to navigate.
Finally I reluctantly agreed to call a triage line, and they told me that high fevers and muscle aches are non-specific signs of severe illness, are not specific to viral infections, and also that having a really tender spot on my leg did not suggest influenza. They very strongly recommended I find out more specifically what severe illness it was that I had.
And so I went to the GP at around the point where the spot on my leg became so painful I couldn’t stand to walk far. I had an ultrasound that showed that it was a massively swollen lymph node, and also that my entire left leg was filled with other swollen lymph nodes. I went to another GP the following day to review the results, I asked if I could maybe lie down to talk to her, and she told me to immediately go to hospital. By that point my leg hurt so much I needed a wheelchair and I was so dehydrated that they ran an IV immediately.
I spent 6 days in hospital running a fever that was closer to 41°C while a couple of layers of skin peeled off my entire inner thigh due to the incredibly aggressive bacterial skin infection that it turned out I had. (It was never cultured, they assumed it was staph.) I refused to eat for almost all that time and for several days I also refused to drink at all and needed IV fluids and painkillers (along with antibiotics).
When my temperature finally went down, the infectious diseases specialist, who tended to address me at all times as a rather dim medical student, dropped by (on a Sunday, in his civvies) and said conversationally “it’s cases like this that really remind us that, even with antibiotics, these things can be very serious, and sometimes even fatal!”
So, it’s indeed safe to say that I’m in the group of people who need to do some work around identifying the emergencies and unique situations where we should take care of ourselves! It is not safe to rely on me recognising my needs and not asking for permission.
But I do have some tips for being slightly safer about this.
Are you a conscientious person? The first step is know this about yourself. Do you:
tend to reduce ambiguity or make yourself or others feel secure by making rules or otherwise systematising things?
prefer to be led by rules?
prefer to lead other people with rules?
have at least one dramatic story in your personal history that goes something like “and that’s why I didn’t call a doctor for a week” or “and so I was the one who ended up pleading guilty” or “and then I paid back her debt for her” where you’re still sort of slightly proud that you followed the rules right into hell?
You might be a conscientious person! And it might not always be an entirely helpful way to be.
Understand that not everyone is like you. Quite a lot of people don’t like doing what they’re told, don’t believe that rules are generally a good idea or that rules are usually abusive, believe that they are a smart person who does the right thing naturally and that rules are only for those other losers, or use rules as means of having power over other people.
Many of those folks have their own excellent reasons for being that way; if you’ve been abused by rule-making a lot, you likely won’t end up in the “rules make me safer” camp, for example. (I think it’s also worth noting that conscientious types aren’t all good people either.)
Rules are often written to allow for all these responses. Rules are thus often very absolute and strict, because the framers assume that everyone will do 50% more than the rules allow (often recursively so). Rules are backed by the power of the state both because some people won’t respond to anything less, and because the state loves power. Etc.
And so if you’re highly conscientious, statements along the lines of “you wouldn’t be asking for permission [if this was actually bad]” may not apply to you. Those statements are aimed at another group of people. If you always need to ask for permission to take care of yourself, that won’t have suddenly changed since February.
Reflect on the purpose of rules. Pandemic rules are a tool for public health and safety. Know that there are other serious threats to health and safety and they may also happen to you.
If you’re a conscientious type, it could be a good time to engage with civil liberties organisations to make sure framing of the rules is proportionate to risk, and makes clear exemptions for, eg, escaping abuse, seeking treatment for other medical conditions, and getting fed. Help your community out against the abusive or unimaginative conscientious or power-hungry types!
Make a plan. Depending on your relationship with anxiety, extensive worst-case scenarios can be a bit risky to play with. But you can cover the major bases and use your affinity for rules to save yourself some decisions later on:
if you’re in an endemic COVID area, familiarise yourself with
the typical onset symptoms
the current testing criteria in your area, and where you would go for a test if eligible
the difference between “care at home” and “go to hospital” symptoms
if you have a known health condition (including mental health!), have a guide to when you are sick enough that you need medical attention for it, and know where you would get such medical attention
find an authority you trust (in the best case some level of your government, but perhaps your personal doctor, a different country with a better government, etc) and follow their public health guidelines, not the strictest intersection of every guideline posited by every single epidemiologist, infectious disease physician, and random individual on Twitter
if you’re required to work outside the house, see previous point for specific precautions and also remember that physical distancing is a societal measure to slow disease spread that does not require the same thing of every individual person
consider #StayAtHome an excellent rule for most people for current circumstances (hopefully eventually in specific regions, very widespread at present!), not the new official way to be a good person forever
Be generous to others. You can’t save the entire world by calling the cops on folks’ parties. Captain Awkward’s post, for all that I’m using it as a jumping off point for “it’s not about you”, has some great tips for more sustainable interventions.
There’s plenty of stories about of people screaming “I see you out there every day! Stay at home! Murderer!” out their windows to people who are on their way to work, at a hospital, because they are a nurse, in a COVID ward. Make a rule to not be that person!
Do something good. Many conscientious people struggle with beliefs they are a bad person. Some of the policing is because people want to actively be good and the only way they can think of is to yell out their window at nurses.
Work on your dysfunctions. Some of these patterns revolve around overfunctioning and anxiety disorders. Consider therapy or other management techniques.
Manage your own conscience. This is some of where Captain Awkward’s “why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?” comes from. Some Bobs: “haha, I trumped you in an argument, alleged Internet expert, gotcha!” Other Bobs: “please please, apparent authority figure, reassure me that I’m a good person even though I did a bad thing that was against the rules.”
You have to have better boundaries than this, and a more functional conscience. The rules can’t tell you if you’re a good person or did a good thing, and neither can advice columnists. (I guess I just outed myself as not a deontologist, huh?)
You need to figure it out case by case, and stand by it, and manage your own guilt. Much rule-following is about outsourcing your conscience and self-esteem and you need to stop doing that.
being subjected to people on social media wanting to take whips to “juveniles” seen outside their houses, or wondering why you even bothered to have children if you aren’t thrilled to be locked in a house with them for a few months at a time at short notice
But, at the same time, they’re all sad. You have the right to acknowledge if only to yourself and hopefully to fellow less affected friends that it sucks that your holiday is canceled and that you liked your regular board game night a whole lot actually.
This is important for two reasons, one is simply for peace of mind, insofar as such a thing exists right now. A whole lot has changed in the world in the last four weeks. You’re struggling to keep up and you’re grieving. It benefits no one, especially you, for you to pretend to yourself you’re suddenly all cool with anything short of imminent death.
The other reason is that eventually we want it all back. We want to be mostly free of the looming threat of infectious disease, and for hospitals to be safe, and to be allowed to leave our houses whenever we damn well please, and to have jobs (even if we have children!), and to be able to retire, and to see our friends, and to have new sex partners, and for people on social media to stop hating children so much.
Being deprived of all this is a really serious imposition on civil liberties and while we’re certainly called upon to go along with it for the sake of our communities, and it’s useless to be angry or sad about it non-stop or to heap stress on politicians and public health officials in difficult times, it’s also not a good idea to convince ourselves that we like it this way.
We don’t like it this way, and we’re not supposed to. It’s really really really sad.