Victorian contact tracers have begun a new approach, but it’s not without problems
Now that case numbers are getting low in Victoria, the 2,600 people working in contact tracing are widening their approach.
It means not just close contacts of a positive case, but also casual contacts, and their close contacts, are being told to isolate and get tested in some outbreaks – particularly those linked to regional Victoria where people have more freedom of movement and will inevitably come into contact with more people.
But the new approach, often referred to by authorities as a “trial”, has had problems with inconsistent advice being given to close contacts in the early days.
Angela Lawton ate at the Oddfellows café in Kilmore last Thursday, before giving birth to her son in hospital the following day.
She said she didn’t find out she was considered a close contact until after she was discharged from hospital, and even then, received contradictory information about what she and her family should be doing.
“It was pretty terrifying. Everything’s a bit surreal after you have a baby anyway with all the sleep deprivation,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“It was just extremely scary to think about the possible ramifications for myself and my family and the wider community given that I was in the maternity ward for a couple of days.”
Ms Lawton said she was initially made aware of the risk she may have come into contact with coronavirus through Facebook and the good work of the café owner, who was spreading information about the outbreak a full day before Ms Lawton was contacted by the department for contact tracing.
She has since tested negative but her husband is still waiting for his result.
Their young daughter and newborn son could not be tested because there were no saliva tests available.
Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett said the Government should be applauded for changing its approach, but warned it was critical that people linked to outbreaks received consistent information on what they should do.
“It looks like in these early stages there’s still inconsistent messaging – that does complicate it and it undermines it,” she said.
“It’s important that that’s addressed very quickly so that people know exactly where they stand.”
Professor Bennett, who has been advocating for a wider approach to contact tracing for months, said the critical thing was getting household contacts of close contacts into isolation early.
“That asymptomatic infection period is where most of the damage is done in terms of spread so it’s got to be effective and it has got to be fast,” she said.
By Nicole Mills and Kyle Harley.