All hands were on deck at the Loddon Mallee public health unit on May 23 as two central Victorian sites were exposed to coronavirus as the state entered a new wave of the pandemic.
Team leader Ancara Thomas said the team of health experts worked frantically through the night to quickly identify the individuals exposed to the virus via the Axedale Tavern and Hairfolk in Bendigo.
"We used our entire workforce, everyone jumped in to get the message out as quickly as possible," Mrs Thomas said.
"We identify exposure sites from case interviews and depending on where the case is in Victoria, that is how the communication gets out to us about where potential exposure sites are in our region.
"Straight up we get in contact with the business and let them know about the exposure and work really closely with them to try to identify who was there."
Mrs Thomas congratulated the central Victorian businesses for cooperating with the unit through the coronavirus exposures.
"Together, we got the messages out as quickly as we could to the community and we had a massively positive response with self-identifiers," she said.
"We used lots of sources of information with Axedale Tavern from the QR codes to the bookings and getting in touch with the individuals who made the bookings.
"They told us how many meals they served up during the exposure period which gave us a good idea of the number of people we're dealing with and that was a key piece of information which helped us feel confident that we had captured all the patrons that were there in.
"The hairdressers were brilliant in being able to bring their information forward quickly because of the number of people there during the exposure time. That was a lot different to the tavern as the exposure time there was a lot longer and the number of people being identified was much larger."
Mrs Thomas worked in health care and joined the Department of Health's coronavirus division at the beginning of the pandemic before moving back to her community in Bendigo to lead the public health unit.
In my role, it's very real, we have lots of information and I love seeing the community try to protect each other like that.Ancara Thomas
On the frontline of the pandemic, Mrs Thomas knows the importance of self-contact tracing and encouraged everyone to keep a record of their movements through using the QR Code check-in system, a diary, or tracking apps on devices.
"QR codes play an extremely important role because it timestamps an individual at an exposure site when it was exposed to coronavirus and being able to pull that list very quickly means we can easily identify who was there, make sure they're safe and to keep the community safe," she said.
"There's definitely tiers of helpfulness and in terms of assessing exposure sites to determine what we're dealing with in numbers.
"If only one person is checking in per 10 people and there's 10 tables, it's really not reflective of how much work needs to go into identifying everyone.
"We really want the public to find sources to track their movements to be confident that this could happen to you, and if it does, how are you going to access this information about where you've been?
"We need your information quickly in contact tracing to keep our community safe and protect us.
"You don't want anyone to not to be identified, you want to go through with a fine-tooth comb."
From the contact tracing completed by the public health unit, Mrs Thomas was able to confirm there were no more exposure sites in central Victoria as the infected person's movements were "captured brilliantly for every minute of the day".
Now, the Loddon Mallee public health unit is preparing for over 100 exposed patrons of the Axedale Tavern to exit quarantine on Sunday, 14 days after the initial exposure.
"We're still managing all the exposure sites from different parts of Victoria and they go through different stages in their management," Mrs Thomas said.
"For Axedale they have their end of quarantine this Sunday so everyone has to get tested on day 13 and we're prepping to make sure we're going to catch everyone and get the test results and we'll bring in all our workforce to clear them.
"The exposure sites can be managed by any public health unit and every one of us has someone who is affected.
"At the moment we are assisting the other public health units in Victoria and their exposure sites - because there are a few exposure sites - and a lot of the community is affected so we're all hands on deck to make sure that the community stays safe."
Mrs Thomas commended the central Victorian community for acting swiftly in response to the outbreak of the virus.
"I think when this happens in our community and you see everyone out getting vaccinated and tested, that's a great response and a great public health outcome for our community," she said.
"That reaction to the situation is quite positive.
"Also, in my role, it's very real, we have lots of information and I love seeing the community try to protect each other like that.
"When it does hit home a little bit people remember that we're not so separate from what's happening in this pandemic, it's real."
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