On August 20 it was announced that Shepparton had a case of COVID-19. It caused a ripple of concern in the community. By that evening it had grown to 17 cases and schools were affected. A week later it is 79 and roughly 20,000 people are in quarantine or isolated.
Among them are my parents, Keith and Eileen. So far they haven't been at any exposure sites, but don't mistake that for good news. That could easily change. And they are still isolated - the Delta strain too contagious for them to risk leaving their home. They are older but active, walking daily down to the CBD to socialise, have a coffee and run their errands. The small stuff of daily life that we all do. That we don't sweat about. But by last Friday night, sweating the small stuff was all we were doing.
They aren't of the generation that have a smart phone so don't use QR codes and, like so many people, have been a little haphazard at signing in at shops (particularly when the sheets aren't easy to find).
So I became their personal contact tracer with a new-found appreciation for the people who do that for a living. Can you remember what you did up to two weeks ago? The time you entered a store? The time you left? No? Neither could I. And neither, when it came down to it, could my parents. After hours of back and forth conversation they were surprised to find that in the space of a week they'd visited more than 20 stores. With the list in hand, we constantly scan the new exposure lists.
Other long-time friends in Shepparton are in hard quarantine - teachers and parents with school-aged children. They have frantically searched for slots to get tested (one waited four days despite being at a Tier 1 site), are anxiously awaiting results and worried about how to get food.
Because when there is a Stop and Stay order on most of the schools in the area you also shut in the delivery drivers, people who pack the bags for deliveries, chefs and front-line retail staff we rely on.
Businesses that could still operate buckled under the weight of demand. Supermarkets had a 300 per cent spike in online orders (it was going to take me a week to get a slot), stores shut or reduced hours and volunteer services were swamped by people desperate for food. I and other friends roped in people on-the-ground who could still move around for shop-and-drops. Local businesses I contacted bent over backwards to help where they could.
It's improved in recent days with more help on the ground, but it's been a tough, worrying week and a cautionary tale from which I've learned a few lessons.
Put COVID-19 outbreaks on your emergency list: Alongside bushfires, cyclones, floods and storms. When it happens, its fast and there may not be time to get anything. People needed to go straight home on Day 1 - just nobody expected it would be thousands at once.
Stock up the pantry: Canned food, dried or long life milk and non-perishable pantry staples that can be turned into meals should be kept on hand. Build up a stash over time on your weekly shop and have enough for a few days to a week at least. It's not hoarding. It's being prepared. As my father put it, people use the supermarket "as a larder", which works in normal times but not for weeks like these.
Don't count on deliveries being available: The staff could be in isolation too.
Keep prescriptions at the chemist: Then it's a quick phone call for a repeat, not an hour trying to find a way to get the prescription to the pharmacy via helpful friends for a later delivery.
Use QR codes, or sign in EVERYWHERE: I know there has been concern about the data security, about the intrusion, about the inconvenience. But, boy, am I now pleased that I have a habit of QRing. If I end up at an exposure site I should be pinged. And, if not? At least I can tell the contact tracers to go look at my app.
Think about the older generation: Not everybody has smartphones. Not everybody is glued to social media, or knows how to navigate the online world. Especially if you're 90. Printed cards with easy-to-follow details of who to ring for help should be dropped into letter boxes. As my father said: "face to face" is better for older people - but having a person to call's not bad either. Not everybody has somebody around to help them. If left isolated, you risk people breaking restrictions to get what they need.
As we head into week two of the outbreak I asked some friends in Shepparton what they had also learned.
Most spoke about the shock of food shortages and about eeking out what you have by changing how you cook, buying more in advance and "learn[ing] to enjoy leftovers as we did 40 plus years ago, which was just part of our life. Less food waste and better for the environment".
My oldest friend, Pete Garla, said the week had also been a lesson in gratitude - for the community around him, for his friends, for the people who have helped and been a "source of real sanity". And while grateful for all the information available, he said rationing the time spent on it was vital otherwise it could "get you down".
"It's like living the way our grandparents did during the war and how our parents learned thereafter ... learning from history or from the legacy of others can help our way of survival today," he said.