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Two beat virus

Friday, 10th April, 2020

By Emily McInerney

Both the people that tested positive for COVID-19 in Broken Hill are set to come out of isolation.

Far West Local Health District Chief Executive Umit Agis said yesterday the two confirmed cases were without symptoms of the disease.

“The first case is out of self-isolation, and that person is symptom-free,” Mr Agis said.

“If all goes well, the second person will come out of isolation shortly, and they are also symptom-free.”

As at 8 April, Far West LHD has conducted 308 tests, including 178 at the COVID-19 clinic. The health service has adequate supplies of test kits at this time. There have been five confirmed cases in Mildura. 

Mr Agis said they had so far received 752 calls to their COVID-19 hotline, with the community seeking more information. 

He said that NSW Health was broadening the testing criteria for areas where there have been cases of community transmission of unknown origin.

Broken Hill is one of these areas.

NSW Health considers these areas to be at elevated risk of community transmission and encourages anyone in these areas with symptoms to be tested for COVID-19. 

Symptoms include fever and/or flu-like symptoms such as cough, sore throat or shortness of breath.

While Broken Hill only has two confirmed cases of COVID-19, one of those cases was acquired in the area, but the source of infection has not been found.  

“The definition of hotspot by the public health unit, is around not so much numbers but the potential,” Mr Agis said.

A Nine News story revealed that Broken Hill would be one of the next 13 ‘hotspots’ around Australia for community transmission of the virus.

“The reason why that is the case for Broken Hill - and I was surprised as well - is that the second case, we weren’t able to determine the source of the infection.

“Because we do contact tracing, we knew the first case had received the virus outside of the state.

“Because that second case was an unknown, it means there is potential for further infections. There is a potential for more.

“At this stage, we only have two; but we need to be on alert.”

Mr Agis said this was one of the reasons the district had lowered the testing criteria to capture as many people as possible.

“Testing numbers have increased; which is a positive sign. People are alert and being proactive.”

Mr Agis congratulated the community on their response to this virus and said NSW Health had been busy tracking down those in contact with the two positive cases.

“The people who had been in close contact with the first case; there were two, they are also out of isolation. They are symptom-free.

“For the second case, there are 12 individuals who were in close contact. 

“They are still in self-isolation.

“We expect them to be coming out of that between the period of April 15-22.”

He said those people conducting the investigations were from NSW Health.

“They are professionals from the public health unit,” Mr Agis said.

“With the second case, there were a number of people who were in close contact with the infected individual. So we had to bring in more people to cover the numbers.

“It’s quite a comprehensive process, it starts with the person concerned.

“Then we get all the people who have been in contact and interview them.

“If there is more contact with the individuals, on it goes. It is quite a massive undertaking.”

Mr Agis encouraged people to continue with their hand hygiene and social distancing. If people have any symptoms, they can call their GP or contact the COVID-19 clinic.

“The testing criteria hasn’t changed, in the past you had to have a combination of symptomology - to meet the case definition. 

“Now what we are saying is if you have fever alone or coughing alone; that in itself is a trigger to do an assessment and see if we need to test you.”

Mr Agis said getting test results back in a timely matter is critical; so they have organised a daily courier service to ensure tests can get out and results back in a few days.

Mr Agis said the Health Service was supportive of restricting access to the townships in the district.

He said that specialists were able to travel over the border from South Australia.

“That issue has been resolved as well as the urgent surgeries that will be conducted in Adelaide.”

He said one positive of being labelled as a ‘hotspot’ was that people were less likely to travel to the area.

“I would like to remind people that during the Easter holidays it is very important to stay home; complete your essential tasks - like exercise and food shopping but don’t go on holiday.

“Don’t go to Menindee. The caravan park is closed.”

Mr Agis thanked all the health service staff for their hard work during this critical time.

A Far West Local Health District spokesman also added it is important at this time to try to suppress the numbers of COVID-19 in the community.

“By finding those cases early and identifying appropriate isolation and quarantining of close contacts, we can help prevent onward transmission in the community,” he said.

“This approach is in line with national COVID-19 control guidelines, which recommend different testing criteria for different risk settings. 

“Far West LHD is currently operating one COVID-19 clinic, located at the Broken Hill Health Service (Thomas Street entry). This clinic is open from 10am to 8pm 7 days a week.”

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