The WA Government has confirmed that the COVID-19 case “in Carnarvon” was marked on this map due to the infected person’s listed address rather than their physical location. (Supplied: WA Health)
Concerns have been raised about the true number of COVID-19 cases in Western Australia’s mining hub because of the way the Government collects data.
- The WA Government says a heat map showing COVID-19 cases shows a person’s address rather than their physical location
- This sparked confusion in Carnarvon, but it turned out the resident was in Perth — a fact that in turn has raised concerns about FIFO workers’ data
- The AMA says the only way to improve the accuracy of data is to gather more of it, and is urging private pathology firms to get involved
The Pilbara region’s thousands-strong force of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers has been deemed essential in order to keep the economy moving.
But a red flag was raised last week when WA Health released a heat map revealing local government areas where COVID-19 cases were located.
The data showed a previously unreported case in the Gascoyne town of Carnarvon, sparking panic and demands for more information from the Shire of Carnarvon.
“The Shire is aware of the map showing a possible case in Carnarvon, however we have no more information than the general public,” it said in a post on social media.
“We are requesting for the Department of Health to provide further information for the public to calm any fears, but no additional information has been received.”
Carnarvon resident in Perth hospital
When the Government clarified the details around the case, it was revealed the person had listed their home address as being in Carnarvon, but had not physically been back in the region since returning from overseas.
They were isolated and receiving treatment in Perth.
The confusion sparked concern the data had not reflected the true number of the cases in the Pilbara, because of the high number of FIFO workers with addresses elsewhere, including interstate.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook acknowledged some data was skewed.
“There’s a range of criteria that goes into actually identifying the location of the particular virus — sometimes we will utilise the residential address, sometimes it will be the location,” he said.
“There are clear protocols that are really driven by the World Health Organisation in terms of how we report these numbers.
“One of the issues that we have in Western Australia is that we have to report the numbers from the cruise ship Artania, even though none of them are actually Western Australians or contracted the disease in Western Australia.
“These are sometimes just the skewing that you get with the numbers and it’s just a matter for us sitting inside those protocols so there’s a consistent way we report those numbers right across the nation.”
The WA Government wants the Artania to leave Fremantle Port urgently.
(AAP: Richard Wainwright)
‘It’s not about a heads-up’
Mr Cook acknowledged people wanted to know if there were more cases in their communities, but said they should trust the Government was protecting their health.
“I’ve had a number of enquiries saying, ‘Well, we should know where these people live so we can protect ourselves,'” he said.
“Obviously we provide the community with all the information they need to make sure they understand we are protecting their public health.
“I understand the cases are aggregated across the regions to the regional centres.
“For the purposes of the Kimberley, it presents the [Halls Creek] cases as occurring in Broome, and obviously there are other cases around the place.
“I’ve asked the department to refine the map so that we make sure we are presenting a truer case of the situation.
“These [heat map] arrangements are really in place simply for the community to understand how the spread of the disease is starting to progress.
“It’s not about providing people with a heads-up so they can take extra precautions to protect themselves.”
More testing needed, AMA says
Australian Medical Association (WA) president Andrew Miller said more testing was needed to get a clearer picture of the disease’s spread, and noted that current figures reflect an uneven spread of monitoring across the state.
AMA president Dr Andrew Miller says it’s time to “test, test, test”. (ABC Perth: Evelyn Manfield)
Dr Miller said the ratio of positive tests returned from the Kimberley — where 14 cases had been confirmed — was much higher than in other parts of the state.
“There seems to be a roughly 4.8 per cent positive rate in the Kimberley as opposed to a 2.5 per cent positive rate in the rest of the state,” he said.
“Which suggests we’re just not getting enough testing done in the regions.
“We know that we need more testing done in the Kimberley, and we need more testing everywhere to make sure we haven’t got a whole bunch of spread that’s going on behind our backs at the moment.
“What we all know is that we can’t fight a war without the information about knowing where the enemy is.
“If the information is inaccurate because the information about a FIFO worker is recorded as their home base rather than where they actually are, or their address is recorded as a region and they’re actually in the metro area, then that makes it very difficult for us to keep a track of this enemy, which only can get carried around by people.”
The AMA is calling on private pathology firms to help process coronavirus tests. (ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)
Dr Miller said more testing was the only way to ensure accurate data and that private pathology labs should be involved in processing the results.
“We need to be testing as many people as we can,” he said.
“The answer to Carnarvon is to not worry too much about whether that individual is there, or are they not, but to test as many people as you can in Carnarvon.
“That gives you a much clearer picture of what the disease is doing.
“The World Health Organisation is very clear: the greatest tool we have at this stage is to test, test, test so let’s get on with it.”
Who should present to COVID-19 clinics?
- General public: People who have BOTH a fever AND acute respiratory infection (eg shortness of breath, cough, sore throat)
- High-risk workers: People with EITHER a fever OR acute respiratory infection (including healthcare workers and police officers)
- High-risk settings: People with EITHER a fever OR acute respiratory infection who have attended the following settings where two or more have contracted symptoms — cruise ships, aged care centres, Aboriginal communities, correctional facilities, military barracks, boarding schools.
- Geographically isolated areas of increased risk: People with EITHER a fever OR acute respiratory infection who have lived in or travelled through the following areas in the previous 14 days: Broome, Halls Creek
Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results.
Major clinics have been set up at hospitals including Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner, Fiona Stanley, Joondalup, Armadale, Rockingham and St John of God Midland.
They are open from 8:00am–8:00pm daily.
In regional WA, clinics are operating at Bunbury Health Campus and Broome Hospital from 10:00am–4:00pm daily.
For more information go to the Health Department website.
As of Tuesday WA had conducted more than 19,000 tests, with 18,731 people returning negative results, 3,787 of whom were from regional areas.
Of those, 302 were in the Pilbara, which has had five positive results.
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