The NSW government has abandoned self-isolation and infection reporting rules, but a Bega disability support worker has been critical of the approach and says finding important health information to help keep her clients safe has become increasingly difficult.
From October 14, 2022, NSW Health ruled it no longer mandatory to self-isolate if you tested positive to COVID, but instead "recommended" individuals stay home and take steps to protect others.
Bega-based disability support worker Cheryl Robinson has long felt the government's "let it rip" mentality around COVID was putting vulnerable people living with disability or the immunocompromised at risk.
Although mandatory isolation continued to be necessary for disability and aged care providers, Ms Robinson said coming into contact with potentially infected people in the community was still a concern.
"I don't really even know anymore how many people in the Bega Valley have COVID because you have to go searching for those details.
"I'm quite sad that's it's all hidden, there's just nothing anymore, even in the media and on the news you've got to go searching and it's usually only a weekly update now."
She said she mainly sticks to taking her clients on outdoor excursions these days to avoid having them come into close proximity with someone potentially infectious with COVID.
If she took her clients grocery shopping, many of them still opted to wear masks to try to mitigate the risk, but she felt there was an even greater risk now that mandatory isolation had been scrapped.
Ms Robinson was also worried with the summer holiday season approaching, larger crowds would bring more people to the Far South Coast and create riskier situations for her clients.
"I love tourism to our area but it's just hard because a lot of them come from places where they have big outbreaks and the numbers are just so hard to find."
She said she was aware of other disability support workers who had taken their clients to a cinema during school holidays and had become infected with COVID.
"I'm just wondering if maybe that's because tourists were down here and going to the movies," she said.
Ms Robinson has also been disheartened to read commentary from people online that suggest vulnerable or immunocompromised people "should just stay home".
"These people still have to survive the best they can and many of them already face many additional struggles," she said.
Lack of data 'challenging'
Chair of the board and acting CEO of Bega Valley disability service Tulgeen Grattan Smith said the organisation was taking the approach of learning to "live with the pandemic" by taking steps to minimise the risk for its clients.
"We've had a very high level of success in avoiding and mitigating and managing COVID and I don't see that anything's going to change.
"We, as does the rest of the community, need to adapt and learn to live with this situation," he said.
Mr Smith said Tulgeen employees were still undergoing weekly RAT testing and wearing masks while indoors or in vehicles with clients, but hoped community members would retain a "heightened awareness" around the increased risk to vulnerable community members.
Tulgeen was also taking precautions in the community such as "avoiding big crowds", but said it was disappointed to see some retail services had reduced the supply of hand sanitiser at the entries to their businesses.
Mr Smith agreed the lack of information was "challenging", but had been liaising with the NSW Southern Local Health District to access data around infection rates in the community.
"We're monitoring the local health district updates and monitoring everything with the health department, particularly through the regional hospital."
Still unclear was whether services like Tugleen were going to have continued access to the necessary supply of personal protective equipment and RATs.
"We maintain a good supply of gloves, masks, RATs, etc. So we just need to make sure that continues onwards.
"We need to check whether these things are going to continue to be supplied free of charge to organisations such as us.
"But either way we need to maintain the supply so we can support staff in maintaining our clients."
He said it was Tulgeen's preference that RATs were continued to be supplied through government support.
"As we're re-ordering we need to know whether it will be supplied or not," said Mr Smith.
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