Members of the Grampians Public Health Unit, Ballarat Health Services and Grampians Health have made it clear they are managing the COVID outbreaks across western Victoria as the region faces a public health test.
Throughout most of the COVID pandemic, western Victoria has been largely sheltered from COVID cases, but as the state of Victoria moves towards 'a new phase' health services and the community are faced with a new set of challenges.
Ballarat Health Services and Grampians Public Health Unit infectious diseases physician Dr Aaron Bloch addressed several areas of concern on Thursday afternoon and said the management of the current situation was "really encouraging".
"We never want to see spread of the virus, but we are going to see the spread of the virus because we are moving into that phase of living with COVID," Dr Bloch said.
"What we are seeing is not a lot of transmission amongst older people or working people.
"It really is quite concentrated for the younger age group and that is really encouraging for the future.
"We know that for the most part, kids get a mild infection or are asymptomatic, so we can have some reassurance from that.
"But we want to do everything we can to manage this infection and protect members of our community who are still vulnerable."
In the past 24 hours there were 13 COVID positive cases recorded in the Northern Grampians, 11 new cases recorded in the Hindmarsh Shire and two recorded in Horsham, for a total of 26 new cases.
Dr Bloch said there were a number of exposure sites his team were working with to manage their individual outbreaks.
"It has been a big day for us across the region in terms of case numbers, and a lot of them are in the education sector and that is reflecting what we are seeing across the state," he said.
"We are seeing a pattern of people in the household who are vaccinated not getting infected and that can lead to amplification in our school setting.
"Inevitably that means we are going to have cases and we are going to have community transmission.
"What then can happen is that we can a spread of cases, particularly in the areas that are unvaccinated and that includes our kids."
Dr Bloch said despite the increase in case numbers no positive cases have been required to be taken for Ballarat for acute care.
He also said some of the cases remained "unlinked", but this was not a great concern.
"If we remember about the buzzwords in the last 12-18 months, unlinked cases was a concerning one when we were in that elimination phase," he said.
"But we can expect to see that more and we will probably begin to focus on that less over time.
"We will see unlinked cases and our jobs, as part of the public health unit and as a community, is to identify those cases so we can provide care for you if necessary.
"For where we are at the pandemic, with almost no restrictions, it is just a phenomenal effort.
"We are reaching the phase of the pandemic where, we can, as best as we can, normalise coronavirus.
Dr Bloch said the Grampians Public Health Unit, Ballarat Health Services and Grampians Health teams have been working closely with the Stawell Primary School and Stawell Secondary College to help them manage their outbreaks.
He said the Stawell Secondary College outbreaks was under control with classes returning.
More work was still to be done to ensure the Stawell Primary School was able to return to running more classes on site.
Further north, three key areas in the Nhill area were identified by Dr Bloch.
An bigger outbreak has occurred at Nhill College, with eight active cases amongst students and two amongst staff, with these cases spread across grades one to six.
Dr Bloch said further testing would be required to assess when the school could begin to return some of their classes.
At the Respect Aged Care - Avonlea site there was one case, when a worker tested positive, but there have been no further infections on site.
The health authorities have also been working to assess the cases linked to the Luv-A-Duck Processing Plant.
"We are working closely with that community, they are all doing a fantastic job to get tested and isolate," Dr Bloch said.
"We are really impressed with their COVIDSafe work, testing, isolation and vaccination to get on top of this and to look after their workforce and the community."
Dr Bloch also said health authorities will be devoting some extra resources to support the Karen community located in the Hindmarsh area.
The West Wimmera Health Service, in conjunction with Grampians Public Health Unit and Hindmarsh Shire Council, are hosting a Karen online COVID-19 Forum today (Thursday November 25) at 5:30pm.
This event is aiming to provide the Karen community with an update on the COVID-19 situation in Nhill and answer any questions.
To join the meeting: https://zoom.us/j/97483406432...
West Wimmera Health Service in conjunction with Grampians Public Health Unit, Hindmarsh Shire Council and Nhill College are also hosting an online COVID-19 Community Forum on Thursday November 25 at 7:30pm via Microsoft Teams.
Join the event here: http://bhs.to/NhillCommunityForum
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Journalist with the Stawell Times-News. Also working with the Ararat Advertiser and the Wimmera Mail-Times. Monash University Bachelor of Business and Arts graduate.
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