Public health heroes reflect on unforgettable year so far

WSLHD Public Health Unit (from left) Jennifer Lampard, Stephen Crone, Sophie Norton, Christian Jones, Ranju Jain, Jennifer Paterson, Dr Anthea Katelaris, Dr Shopna Bag and Penelope Clark.

It’s been over a month since the last case of COVID-19 community transmission in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

This incredible feat was made possible by conducting more than 50,000 tests so far, and doing extensive work with each of the 330 people diagnosed in the district.

That’s where the WSLHD Public Health Unit comes in.

The elite team of seven are notified about every new case and reach out to the patient to do interviews and contact tracing – read more about the process here.

Public Health surveillance nurse Jennifer Lampard said her roles in this pandemic have included determining what sort of care patients need, investigating the source of infections, providing welfare and social support, doing testing at nursing homes, and taking a lot of calls from the public.

The COVID-19 contact tracing team (from left) surveillance nurse Jennifer Lampard, Dr Anthea Katelaris, surveillance officer Jennifer Paterson and epidemiologist Sophie Norton.

“It was initially very chaotic from the start because we were handling calls from GPs, hospital clinicians, schools and the general public,” Jennifer said.

“There were many people who were scared and anxious. We had to deal with a lot of misinformation that people were getting from social media. We had to alleviate a lot of people’s fears and anxiety, which was difficult because information was not readily available.

“Because it’s all new, we were having to adjust to the constantly evolving and new emerging information. But now we are settled in and have got into the rhythm of it.”

Infectious Diseases surveillance officer Jennifer Paterson is a ‘disease detective’, who works with patients to figure out where they picked up an infectious disease and who they may have exposed.

During the COVID-19 pandemic she’s also been doing welfare check-ins with people who are self-isolating to prevent spreading the disease to others.

Public Health Unit director Dr Shopna Bag (centre) said the public has done a fantastic job so far in adhering to the precautions and keeping everyone safe, especially those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“It can be challenging when I am the first person to tell the patient or parent their test was positive. Some have been shocked and upset. So I offer a pause, chat or call back, and facts that will ease their concern – for instance, that for most people this disease has mild symptoms,” Jennifer said.

“It’s been a privilege ensuring the welfare of people who are isolating at home, helping them with food supply and providing general reassurance.”

Now that the daily number of new cases remains low, the Public Health Unit has been able to focus on compiling all their COVID-19 data and return to other work on other diseases.

Our Public Health Unit said they are grateful for the understanding and cooperation of the patients they work with.

“Australia is fortunate with an exceptional public health network that activated quickly to prevent the spread of COVID, as it has for all other notifiable diseases,” Jennifer Paterson said.

“Thank you for taking this pandemic seriously when for many the symptoms have been mild. The success of COVID containment has been the general public abiding by the rules and advice of professionals.”