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  • Théa Mercado

Our helper thought she only got a cold, maybe the flu. We asked her to get tested.

Covid-19 Summer Journal #02 - Week 4 of stricter social distance measures in Hong Kong. Better safe than sorry

A week ago E., our helper asked if you could leave earlier. She was not feeling so well. It was around 8 pm, and I was in the middle of writing so I only said: "Of course. Take care and get well soon." She was already gone for an hour until it dawned on me that maybe I should be worried. Kai came home late from work. I told him that E. was not feeling so well. "What are her symptoms? Maybe she's just feeling queasy or it's that week of the month, " he said. I forgot to ask. So I texted her and she replied: "Headache and bodyache, 'mam." That's a bit worrying. We waited for another day and texted her in the morning. "I'm coughing a little bit but I think it's only a cold or maybe the flu. I will take medicine." She texted. And we got even more worried.

If you haven't figured it out by now, E. is a live-out. By law foreign domestic helpers are required to live with their employers. But many households let their helpers live out especially if there is not much space and/ or the employers do not feel comfortable living with their helper in such close proximity. Hong Kong flats are tiny. The live-out arrangement was win-win for us. Everyone got more privacy and E. had a more regulated workday.

E. shares a room with another room-mate which is by helper dorm standards almost luxurious. Most dorms are overcrowded and it is not unusual that a small room with one bunk bed is occupied by 4 to 6 domestic helper.

Those overcrowded conditions are a recipe for disaster during a Covid-19 pandemic. Like in Singapore four months ago, dormitories occupied by foreign workers carry a high risk of becoming coronavirus clusters. E. is probably most at risk to contract Covid-19 of all members in the household.

I started checking if anybody else in the family developed any symptoms. Is that an inkling of sore throat? Is Dex sniffing because of his allergies? To put our minds at ease we asked E. to get tested ASAP. She was hesitant to get tested. "'Mam remember when I had to run after Dex in the rain? That's why I got sick. And I'm just coughing a little bit. No need to worry."

We cannot afford to not worry. If Dex got Covid there would be a high chance that he has to go through isolation in a hospital unaccompanied, all by himself.

So E. went to see Quality Health, the Starbucks of medical centres. They offer 2 tests. The government test was HKD 650 but it would take 10 work days for the results to come in. The private route would take 3-5 work days and costs HKD 950. Both are deep throat saliva test.

E. had to collect a spit sample by herself in the morning BEFORE brushing her teeth, eating or drinking something. She also had to leave the contact details of employers in case she tested positive.

Covid-19 Real-time RT-PCR Test Result: NEGATIVE

The week without E. was tough for me and Dex. Kai had to work a lot and could barely help with household chores and childcare. At least no one in the family felt poorly. A week of stressed out mommy daycare later E. gave me call with very good news: Negative. "I will come in for work today." Thank God, this week is off to a good start.

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