Contact tracing practices in Esperance under fire

The way contact tracing is carried out in Esperance has been criticized, with the WA Nationals accusing the state government of treating the areas differently to Perth.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Nationals agricultural MLC Colin de Grussa asked Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson to clarify whether contact tracing was taking place in Esperance, after contract tracing last week had place “if any” in the coastal city.

Mr. de Grussa said the Department of Health had previously advised Esperance County that the state government would no longer list exposure sites because they were “unable to track” contact tracing.

Ms Sanderson replied in Parliament to Mr de Grussa saying that positive cases in Esperance were now asked to manage their own contact tracing and had to inform all close contacts themselves.

She said the ‘hands-on approach’ meant people would come into contact with those close contacts, while WA Health would still take on the role in ‘high-risk settings’ such as residential care facilities.

Ms Sanderson also said exposure sites in Perth would not be listed unless there was confirmed transmission of COVID-19.

Mr de Grussa said that response contradicted information posted on the Department of Health’s website, which said contact tracing was still being used.

“What it doesn’t say is that if you live in a regional community, the McGowan government will leave you to your own devices and ask you to do your own contact tracing,” he said.

Concerns about the list of exposure sites were raised by several local government officials in the Goldfields in February as cases began to rise in the area.

Exposure sites are said to be listed only if contact tracers are unsure whether they have reported close contacts, explaining why controlled environments such as schools and mining sites have not been published.

The Kalgoorlie Miner also understands that the removal of “casual” exposure site status means that places with mask requirements – such as a grocery store – where people spend a short time near a COVID-positive person, may not not be registered as an exhibition site.

Esperance County Chairman Ian Mickel said the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the southeast coastal community was low, but there was a lack of official information being shared.

“Very little information comes to us from the Healthy WA site, so it’s word of mouth all over town,” he said.

“(At first) I think most people were pretty worried, but the city still seems to be running reasonably well at the moment.”

The Kalgoorlie Miner understands that the number of positive cases in Esperance is clustered with the wider Goldfields area, which as of 8pm Wednesday recorded 156 new cases.

This brings the number of active cases in the region to 703.