COVID-19 casual contact sites vanish from NSW Health updates as Delta outbreak deepens

By: Jamie McKinnell

The number of COVID-19 exposure sites in NSW grew so large earlier this week, health authorities abandoned listing some of them in email and social media updates.

During the state’s Delta outbreak, NSW Health has been sending regular media releases detailing new venues of concern, and posting a list of close and casual contact sites on Twitter.

But on Tuesday night, the emailed briefing did not list casual contact sites, and directed people to the department’s website where they could view “a number of” new venues “associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19”.

An update on Twitter also appeared without the list, sparking questions from the public.

“Unfortunately the list is very long,” NSW Health tweeted.

But it pointed out that the venues were still being updated on the department’s website.

“As there are so many venues, across many suburbs [the tweet] will just be telling everyone to … check the website,” the department replied to one query.

In a statement, NSW Health said the list of close and casual contact sites would continue to be published on social media and directly to its website, where users can filter results by most recently updated, exposure date, or alphabetical order.

Last Thursday, one of the three exposure site updates emailed by NSW Health included five pages of close and casual contact sites.

People deemed close contacts in NSW must get tested for COVID-19 and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.

Those classified as a casual contact must get swabbed and isolate until they receive a negative result.

“Given the transmissibility of the COVID-19 Delta strain, NSW Health is taking a more cautious approach in classifying venues as either close contact or casual contact venues,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said.

Dr Kerry Chant, the state’s Chief Health Officer, acknowledged increasing case numbers had made it “challenging”, but said systems had been “ramped up” with an “incredible surge”.

“Our priority has been getting out those text messages, and given that someone may be diagnosed and there has been some turnaround time issues with laboratory testing, you imagine we go back two days after they got their symptoms,” Dr Chant said.

“So that can explain why the venues are [listed as] five days ago, because if you have gone for a test, you got the test result in 48 hours or 24 hours, then we ask you [to] go back two days [and tell us] where you have gone.”

NSW Health said its tracing teams included at least 550 staff working directly with confirmed COVID-19 cases and contacts.

“There are also more than 400 extra staff assisting in a surge capacity, in line with previous outbreaks,” the spokeswoman said.

The department has employed state-based staff from government agencies and private companies, with up to 30 colleagues in Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT also helping out with case interviews.

Dr Chant said NSW was dealing with “one of the most challenging times we have ever experienced as a nation”.

“I would ask everyone to do their bit,” she said.

The state recorded 233 new infections on Wednesday, and there were two more deaths.

Many of the venues of concern are in Western Sydney and south-west Sydney, with an Aldi store in Auburn among the latest additions.

In the latest update, two bus routes have been added to the list of venues of concern.

Anyone who travelled on the 601 bus route from Parramatta Station to Castle Hill on Sunday July 25 between 8:24am and 9:00am or the 415 bus from Burwood Road, Belmore to Parramatta Station on Saturday July 24 between 8.24am and 9:00am is considered a close contact and must get tested immediately.

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