The rapid spread of a COVID-19 Omicron cluster in Western Australia’s Pilbara region comes as no surprise, according to the chief executive of a local health service.
In the historic town of Roebourne, infections surpassed 200 in the fortnight following the return of the area’s first positive result and four people have been hospitalised with respiratory issues.
The majority of confirmed cases are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Mawarnkarra Health Service chief executive Joan Hicks said local housing situations contributed to the fast spread of infection and household transmission.
“Because Omicron is highly contagious, the outbreak has spread through the community quickly,” she said.
“This is not unexpected in our community due to overcrowded living conditions which makes it extremely difficult for people who test positive to isolate.”
Ms Hicks said much of the clinic’s attention was being directed towards the large First Nations community.
“Aboriginal people are considered a vulnerable group,” she said.
“Mawarnkarra is the largest primary health care provider for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Roebourne area.
“We know our community and could see how a single case could escalate very rapidly into multiple cases.”
The age of infected people in Roebourne range from infants to those in their 60’s. There has been no reports of community elders being critically effected.
MHS began proactive screening measures of all visitors to the clinic on February 21 as cases sprung up throughout WA, and required anyone displaying symptoms to provide a negative RAT result before entering.
Since the outbreak, the service has been providing supplies and support to manage the situation.
“To improve access and frequency of testing, MHS staff members are going door-to-door in Roebourne as well as providing rapid antigen tests and masks to local residents,” Ms Hicks said.
Roebourne resident and Ballardong woman Tracey Heimberger said the community had remained relatively calm during the outbreak, but facilities were a concern.
“I don’t know of a place where people with COVID can go, apart from the medical service,” she said.
“For emotional support and for isolation.”
“I believe people haven’t been getting really sick,” Ms Heimberger said there was concern about the community’s ability to cope should the virus get out of control.
Compounding the issue is the swelling of Roebourne’s 1000-strong population in recent weeks for sorry business after two unrelated deaths.
“We’re going to be in all sorts of problems because we have a lot of frail aged people here, we have a lot of disabled people here,” she said.
“We’ve got people here from all over the place, cause they come from two big families.
“Our mob can’t stop seeing one another – the way we do things, it’s cultural to be together.”
The local Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation, store has been providing free food hampers for the community, with many volunteering.
In concert with State and Federal health advice, MHS has encouraged people to get vaccinated as the best way to protect themselves and community from serious implications of COVID.
“We all have a responsibility to protect our families, elders and community, and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated.” Ms Hicks said.
Vaccination rates have increased since the beginning of the outbreak.