One text message can turn lives upside down. In a heartbeat, words on my phone stopped me in my tracks.
"Any student, staff member, worker and visitor who has attended any Clarendon campus at any time from Tuesday 13 July through to Friday 16 July is subject to a 'STOP and STAY' directive. This means that you should STOP what you are doing now, go directly home, and STAY home from now until further notice."
As I read the message, COVID-19 became real. It had gone from a remote danger to an unwelcome visitor in our town, Ballarat in Victoria's Central Highlands.
Like thousands of others, we were forced to act quickly as conscripts in the fight against the virus
I immediately left work, embarrassed about my departure, but knowing there was no option.
Our family was caught off guard. The fridge was empty and grocery shopping was desperately needed; I also knew that the current City of Hume outbreak had stemmed from people who had not complied with instructions, going to a supermarket.
Online grocery shopping would not be our saviour as all delivery slots had been booked that night.
So, for the time being, we would have to go without the groceries. Fortunately, a generous family friend dropped off essential goods.
In our home, we wore masks. Distances were kept. Hand sanitiser bottles were vigorously pumped. Surfaces were wiped down. Anything that we could do to reduce risks, we did.
Even our puppy was avoided. Who knew what could happen if one of us had the virus and patted her. Extreme times, extreme reactions.
An immediate challenge was to keep our three boys, aged 14 and 11, physically busy. A local oval was out of bounds so we improvised. The driveway became gym central; coloured cones mapped out a track; a broomstick with dumbbells taped was for weight training. The boys only had one go at a wrestling match. It was a draw.
The situation was worrying; uncertainty hung heavily. Logic suggested we were likely to be fine, but there was a tinge of fear about what could unfold, particularly for the broader Ballarat society. It was hard to comprehend all the people who would have been affected if there had been a COVID-positive case at the school.
We related the COVID-19 situation to glass that is shattered. There is the initial crack and then multiple extensions of the crack, reaching out every which way.
Frustration emerged as our sons were too young to grasp the situation's potential magnitude. They had enjoyed home schooling, having had access to television, toys, and balls. Yet, they had not been able to appreciate the impact on education, the effects on small business, and the mental health toll on young and old. Perhaps, for them, ignorance had been bliss.
24 hours after the first text from the school, another one arrived. "The Ballarat Clarendon College school community (has) not been exposed to COVID-19."
It was over. We were in the clear. Our community and the rest of Ballarat had dodged the COVID-19 bullet. Relief.
The experience over the few days had served as a blunt reminder about the fragility of the world, globally, nationally, regionally, and locally.
It also showed how interconnected we all are; why masks, QR codes, and regulations must be followed; and how the push for vaccinations is so important.
Nobody wants to be dragged into the always-changing story that is COVID-19 and its variants.
For our family, one brief scare was enough.
James Couzens is a reporter for The Courier. Previously, he taught at Ballarat Clarendon College for 22 years.