Local push to release confirmed COVID-19 case locations

Update: As of 3pm this afternoon NSW Health has released a table of confirmed cases by Local Government Area. According to the table, Nambucca Valley has 1-4 confirmed COVID-19 cases. We are currently seeking further clarification.

Source: NSW Health, March 25, 2020. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-latest.aspx#statistics

Source: NSW Health, March 25, 2020. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-latest.aspx#statistics

Anger is growing in the Nambucca Valley that the community is being "left in the dark" about whether there are local confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The push by some NSW councils to have coronavirus infection numbers reported for each Local Government Area is supported by Nambucca Valley Council's Mayor and General Manager.

General Manager Michael Coulter said at the moment numbers were being reported for each Local Health District, which covered an enormous area.

"Reporting the cases for each LGA would not jeopardise anyone's privacy and it would help to give residents better information about what was happening around them locally," Mr Coulter said.

This threat is real and these numbers for the broader areas don't help with raising the awareness ... plus it would stop the speculation that is rife on social media.

Mayor Rhonda Hoban said what she has been witnessing on her travels around the Valley is that only half of the community is taking this pandemic seriously.

"Some people are being very cautious, but the other half is being quite complacent, and that's largely because they think we're relatively isolated here," she said.

"If and when we are advised of a case in our Valley, I believe people will be much more inclined to take it seriously and follow the directives from health authorities."

Cr Hoban said she believes it is particularly important for the Nambucca Valley to be trusted with available information about positive cases, given our shire is populated by a large percentage of people in the high risk category - elderly, Indigenous, and those with chronic illness and pre-existing medical conditions.

Both Mr Coulter and Cr Hoban have said they had taken the matter up with the MNCLHD personally and also written a letter to the Office of Local Government.

Another aspect to this is that if we were to suddenly have a lot of infections locally, people would be asking 'why weren't we told?'

General Manager Michael Coulter

In breaking news today, the Newcastle Herald has reported that Hunter New England Health has responded to public pleas to know the local government areas where cases of COVID-19 have occurred: 19 confirmed cases in the Newcastle, five in Port Stephens, 24 in Lake Macquarie, six in Maitland, alongside 19 cases in the Lower Mid North Coast, 15 in the Hunter Valley, and 12 in the New England regions.

But the Mid North Coast Local Health District is holding steadfast, issuing a statement on Facebook two hours ago, responding to the repeated calls to release information about cases by LGA:

"We understand there are concerns in the community about the location of people with COVID-19, as people are obviously keen to protect themselves against the virus.

"Please be assured that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts are either being treated in hospital or are in self-isolation to ensure there is no ongoing risk of infection to others in the community.

"Locations of where these people live, work, or have visited do not pose any ongoing risk to the public. And it's important that just as we would want our health privacy protected, we afford others that same courtesy.

"Those self-isolating are doing a great service for our community and we need people to feel confident about their privacy when coming forward to report if they are unwell. Otherwise people may not seek help for fear of being victimised and we risk the virus spreading further.

"Please be assured that we will let the community know of any public locations where there has been a known risk of infection. This is in line with national protocols and is so you can monitor symptoms and seek medical assistance if you become unwell.

"We want to stress how important it is for everyone to do their bit. Wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, maintain social distancing and stay home if you're unwell.

"Again, Mid North Coast Health follows the guidelines of the National Department of Health in addition to NSW Health. Our District will continue to keep the public updated by releasing all appropriate information as guided by the NSW Ministry of Health and Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant."

Yesterday NSW Health released some figures broken down by LGA, but only those cases known to be contracted in NSW communities.

According to that list, the Nambucca Valley has no locally-acquired cases of COVID-19.

If there are cases in the Nambucca Valley, they have been contracted overseas.

So far the only person in the MNCLHD known to have contracted COVID-19 locally is the 14-year-old St Columba Anglican School student from Port Macquarie.

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