My housemates caught COVID-19 on the last weekend in February.
On the 28th of February, one of them started developing symptoms. On the 2nd of March, a close contact informed them that they’d tested positive. On the 3rd, they both tested positive with antigen tests. Jackie and I went to get tested immediately, so we could figure out if we wanted to partition the apartment, or whether we could all be in the same spaces together.
We tested negative.
We’re now starting to come out of the whole situation: my housemates are recovered and recovering (one each), and we’re still negative. But it’s been a weird couple weeks, and I wanted to write it down to not forget about it, and to highlight some of the idiosyncrasies in the way this is being handled in Berlin-Pankow.
A timeline of events
26-28 Feb: housemates contract COVID-19, start experiencing symptoms
2 Mar: housemates are notified that a close contact has tested positive; we all start keeping distance-ish from each other
12:00: Housemates take an antigen test and test positive.
13:00: We take an antigen test and test negative. I get a coupon for €5 off my next test:
14:00: Housemates get a call from the local health office, telling them to go get officially tested (PCR, conducted by a government laboratory, including testing for variants). Housemates are told to tell us to register as “contact people” using an online form, but it asks for the date of their PCR test, so we wait until they’ve got results.
4 Mar, 09:30: Housemates get PCR tested.
4 Mar, evening: Housemates are feeling bad, and try to buy us apology pho ❤️.
5 Mar, 15:00: test results are in for the housemates. They tested positive. They get an email and a phone call:
According to the email, they’re in quarantine until the 13th (inclusive), which is 14 days from first symptoms
According to the phone call, they have the B117 (Kent) variant, and so it’s 14 days quarantine from the PCR Test. Somebody later realises that they got this wrong – it’s just garden-variety COVID – and calls back and sorts it out.
We’re also supposed to now get tested, but it apparently could take a while because a contact tracer has to call them first, then get our details from my housemates. After that, we can go get an official PCR test.
5 Mar, 20:00: My housemates put their test results in the Corona-Warn app in the hope that it will allow us to get tested quicker. This involves calling a phone line, waiting on hold, detailing where you got tested, providing a bunch of verification data, waiting ten minutes for a callback, and then entering a 10-digit code in the app1. The app says that my last contact was on the 3rd of March, which… isn’t true, since I live with them. 🤷♀️
6 Mar, 15:00: A day after my housemates are confirmed positive, Jackie and I decide that waiting for the contact tracers isn’t a good plan. We fill out the form on the website. It’s got a few idiosyncrasies:
It asks for the name, full address, and birthday of the infected person plus their registered district, when their symptoms started, and when they had their PCR test.
It also asks for the names of anyone else in your household who came into contact, but notes that they’ll have to fill out their own form in a footnote.
I called up the health office to check that this was the right thing to do beforehand and they gave me warnings about filling out the form; there’s a couple of required fields where if you don’t fill them in correctly your input is rejected (notably, your job, your employer, the full address of your infected contact, and a compulsory field for describing the symptoms which you may not have).2
6 Mar, 15:30: the contact tracers call our housemates, ask for our full names, phone numbers, birthdays, email addresses. Our housemates pass on the message that:
We’ve been put in quarantine until the 16th (inclusive) and we’ll get an email about it
We’ll probably get a PCR test appointment for the 9th, at 10:30am (in three days time).
6 Mar, 16:30: Our appointment has been moved from 10:30 to 9:30 because it turns out my housemates don’t have the B117 variant after all, and that means they can test us earlier? We still haven’t been contacted by the health department though; they’re calling our housemates and asking us to relay the info.
6 Mar: 17:00: I receive an email and am officially a designated Contact Person in quarantine. Or rather, Herr Pamp is: I receive an email for the wrong name3.
The email also says my appointment is at 10, not 10:30 or 9:30, as previously mentioned. Jackie receives no email.
7 Mar: It is a Sunday, so nothing happens.
8 Mar: I receive a phone call in response to the form I filled out; I’m officially in quarantine until the 17th (inclusive), because it’s 14 days from when the last-infected housemate started showing symptoms. I do not understand this logic – is he not still infectious? Am I not still living with him? But they fixed my name in their systems, and confirmed that my appointment is for 9:30. I get an email confirming all of this. Jackie has a similar experience.
9 Mar, 9:30: We do the test. This is the only time that we’re allowed to leave the house in the next 10 days, and we’ve been advised to avoid public transport if at all possible. So we walk the 5km there, and most of the way back, to maximise our time outside.
11 Mar, 9:51: we receive our negative results.
13 Mar (yesterday): I receive an official letter from the government informing me that I’ve been officially in quarantine since the 2nd4 until the 17th (but subject to change). The letter says that I’ve been legally obligated to measure my temperature twice per day for fevers, and am not allowed to leave the house, even to check the mailbox, which has some interesting implications on how I was supposed to receive the letter informing me I was required to stay inside.
14 Mar (today): the first of my housemates exits quarantine. He picks up celebratory fresh-baked breadrolls for breakfast (it’s a Sunday tradition for the four of us).
I can’t help but wonder if the reason why we’re still in lockdown is because of mismanagement
The coffee shop near my house had a sign out in November saying that they would offer only takeaway for the rest of the month. Then they updated it saying that they’d offer only takeaway until the end of December, and they’d be out for New Year’s. And then only takeaway stopped being news and started being the program, and they stopped updating the sign.
It’s now been 4 months of lockdown. A huge advantage of lockdowns (and part of the original reasoning for it in November!) is that they make it much easier to do contact tracing – there’s less contacts to trace, after all, if nobody is seeing anybody. This whole experience with the office in Pankow makes me feel like they’re not putting enough effort into making the system work, though. Observe:
- It was a full five days between my housemates testing positive the first time and me speaking to anyone within the health office.
- My housemates were told once that they had the B117 variant, and then again that they didn’t.
- After contact tracing, they typo’d my name, Jackie didn’t hear from them, and we received three different appointment times for a PCR test.
- The only reason why we were ever contacted on the phone was because we filled in a needlessly complex form on the website.
- This is nothing close to a peak for Berlin – we’re at roughly 75 cases / 100k / week, which is lower than it was for all of mid-October to the start of February.
- I am 95% sure that the emails informing people that they’re Corona contacts are sent manually – the formatting changes in various places consistent with copy-pasting, and the subject line was different across the two I received (one written as “Fabian Tamp”, the other as “Pamp, Fabian”).
It’s worth noting that the systems in place vary from district to district – the system in Berlin-Pankow, for example, might be different from the system in Berlin-Lichtenberg – but this is certainly part of the problem.5
I just don’t have any confidence in the overarching system here anymore. I’m becoming sour that we’re still in lockdown because of a double failure: the vaccine rollout has been slow, and the tracing has been ineffectual.6
It is strange, and frustrating, to have your perception of the outside world narrowed to the view onto a courtyard
My perception of the outside world in the last few weeks has been limited to what I can see and feel through the window. I’m lucky that my windowsill is big enough to sit on, and that I can read there in the morning light.
There are two fat pigeons living in the courtyard at our house; they’ve made a home in a much-too-young pine in the middle. One of them flies down once a day to poke around the corners of the planters and the trash for food and nest-building material. Then, you hear the fwipfwipfwipfwipfwip of its wings and see the pine bend dramatically as it lands back in the nest.
The last few days, it’s been raining, hard. There was lightning once. I haven’t needed to check the weather, but I had a vague sense that it was getting warmer because I didn’t need the heating to be up as high.
It is strange, and frustrating, to keep distance from the people you live with
The kitchen/dining is arguably the most important room in our apartment. It’s now empty, and cold because of a need to ventilate. There is no Berliner Rundfunk playing on the radio; there are no housemates eating dinner there; there are no board games, there is no flipping through junk mail in the mornings. It is now a cold place where FFP2/N95 masks are worn. Cooking is performed quickly, hands are sanitised before and after.
This part specifically would’ve been much easier if we’d all caught it. It was frustrating feeling like we shouldn’t spend time in there because of risk of infection. I can imagine it being frustrating feeling like you weren’t able to use your kitchen freely because you’re contagious, too.
Taking delivery of half a kilo of cinnamon
There’s a brand new delivery service in inner-Berlin, which will deliver groceries in 10-minutes-ish from ordering7. This turned out to be a lifesaver, but they don’t have spices, and what do you do if you run out of cinnamon? I don’t know how or why, but there are ½ kilo bags of organic Cinnamon available on Amazon Prime:
I mean, y’know, we probably could’ve asked some friends to get it for us too; along with the stuff they picked up from the post office. But supermarkets are chaos.
I expected to just be able to keep working as normal over the last week and a half, and it just didn’t… happen. I’m still unclear on why; it’s probably a combination of worry, discomfort and… honestly, probably just not getting enough sunlight.
Wednesday last week I decided that I was going to start work an hour later every day until I was “ok again”; not because there was a tangible ‘something extra’ I needed to do, but explicitly because I just wasn’t coping. Having that time available – even if I didn’t need it for anything – was helpful.
Our lockdown has been comparatively not quite as soul crushing
This last couple weeks has made me aware (again) of how unrestrictive our lockdown has been, relatively speaking. Comparing this to what happened in Melbourne or Ireland, the fact that we’ve generally been allowed outside, and to spend time in nature, and to meet with other people (at distance, of course) has been glorious. I’ve stayed connected to the seasons from walking in the snow and from seeing the new growth on the trees, and not just from noticing that it was staying light for longer.
But I’m still very ready for this to be over. In a few days, we’ll have our apartment back to normal, we’ll go outside again. And hopefully, hopefully, our government will get the message that this current situation is bullshit, and we expect more from them.
Theoretically it’s significantly quicker if there’s a QR code on your PCR test, but that’s not the case at the Gesundheitsamt Pankow. ↩︎
It’s usually Tamp, with a ’t'. ↩︎
Before we knew about it? But I think I might’ve mistakenly given them this date when I called them. ↩︎
Deutschlandfunk has a good writeup (in German) about a new digital system available country-wide, and the challenges involved in achieving adoption. ↩︎
I’m normally real skeptical of anything that offers delivery because of a track-record of gig economy exploitation, but it looks like they actually employ people? Tip your deliverers anyway though. ↩︎