It may be the Year of the Tiger for those celebrating Chinese New Year, but 2022 is also undoubtedly the year of the ‘RAT’ for millions across the world.
Social media feeds – once the terrain of perfectly posed hero shots – are now littered with photos of people sticking swabs up their noses. Equally popular is the pregnancy test look-alike image – boasting one line (insert ‘Thank goodness we’re COVID free’ comment) or two lines (insert ‘We’re in iso’ lament).
This week NSW and Victoria have been particularly plagued with RATs (of course, we’re talking about Rapid Antigen Tests) as students and teachers headed back to school. Over the next few weeks, a total of 24 million self-test kits will be delivered to schools (government and non-government, primary and secondary) and early childhood centres across both states.
Never before has the school term started with an express, mass rollout of medical test kits. In NSW around 8.2 million RAT kits were delivered to schools, while in Victoria, 6.6 million kits were delivered. Then, of course, it was up to schools to organise the distribution of kits to each individual child (and teachers), in bundles that allow them to carry out twice-weekly testing on school days for the first four weeks of term.
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For families (like ours) with multiple schoolchildren, that’s a lot of tests to wrangle. Of course, the biggest challenge is implementation. Experts are advising to allow an additional 20 minutes on ‘RAT’ day to the already-frantic morning routine – that is, if all your children manage to start and finish the test at the same time. It doesn’t account for late risers and grumpy teens or unwilling swabbers, including some younger children, those with fears around medical procedures and kids with additional needs, such as autism.
I was reminded just what an achievement performing a RAT is for some families when my friend posted a photo of her daughter with autism giving a ‘thumbs up’ with one hand while sticking a swab up her nostril with the other hand. Now they just have to repeat it another seven times over the next month!
In my own house, I’m fast coming to the realisation that I need to implement a system for COVID-safe school procedures and equipment. I was inspired by my friend’s recent photo of a small box neatly housing test kits labelled with each family member’s initial, alongside a stack of masks. Meanwhile, on day one of school in my house, we already experienced the “I can’t find a mask” kerfuffle. It seems I spent too much time preparing school uniforms and not enough time prepping for COVID schooling. (Unlike my friend, who commented alongside her COVID-prep box photo “Their uniforms probably don’t fit but at least I can test them!”)
Meanwhile, in Queensland, the start of the school year has been delayed until February 7 (primarily to allow enough time for children to be vaccinated). If I’m honest, I feel a twinge of jealousy about their extra week of holidays. Part of me would love just a few more days without the rigours of time-pressured RATs and frazzled kids, a few more days to prolong the inevitable spike in COVID cases that lurks on the term-one horizon.
But, as in all things, postponing the difficult stuff is probably not the answer. After all, Jesus promised that “in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). RATs and COVID are part of living in a fallen world in our “jars of clay“. And in the light of eternity, a nose swab (or eight) and some tricky school mornings will fade into insignificance.
For those for whom this task – and more significantly, the whole COVID season – is more acutely painful, I am reminded of these hope-giving words from 2 Corinthians 4: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”