• WA Health Minister confirmed on Friday that no Aboriginal person in the Kimberley had tested positive following an outbreak in the region. (instgram)Source: instgram
Halls Creek is one of three Kimberley communities where health workers tested positive to COVID-19 and local medical services are now concerned they don't have the resources needed to respond to a potential outbreak.
Keira Jenkins

2 Apr 2020 - 10:32 PM  UPDATED 3 Apr 2020 - 12:31 PM

The first six cases of the Coronavirus in the Kimberley were confirmed by the Commonwealth Health department on Wednesday, with five of those cases being non-Indigenous health workers.

Three health workers tested positive to the virus in Broome, one in Kununurra, and another in Halls Creek. The sixth case was not a health worker. 

Yura Yungi Medical Service in Halls Creek was forced to shut down usual business to focus on responding to COVID-19 in the community.

CEO of the Yura Yungi Medical Service, Brenda Gartsone, told NITV News on Thursday that  her team was stretched.

"What that means is we've had to split up into three teams - one is to complete the flu vaccinations with our over-65's as soon as possible. We're really trying hard to get them vaccinated," she said.

"Another team is actually working with the West Australian Country Health Service to do the contact tracing in the community.

Ms Gartsone said it also fell to members of her team to establish social support meetings and attempt to manage the level of anxiety in the community.

"This has really shifted our core focus from delivering a primary health care service through the medical service," she said. 

"We're now actually in Coronavirus response mode."

Ms Garstone said the Halls Creek community is very anxious about the virus.

"The whole town is talking about it, they're very anxious, they're very concerned, worried, because this is a matter of life and death for our community," she told NITV News.

Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service (KAMS) CEO Vicki O'Donnell said the positive test results are being managed as best they can.

"The contract tracing has been done. The workers are in isolation. There's been a lot of work around ensuring that these cases are isolated," said Ms O'Donnell.

She said anxiety in communities is being increased by the sharing of misleading information on social media.

Rumours and newspaper reports of body bags being sent to communities in the Kimberley were untrue, said Ms O'Donnell.

"That is not part of our plan. I think it was something discussed in other communities but it is not happening here.

"Part of the issue is social media. People see something on Facebook and they assume that it's true."

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Ms Garstone said she is concerned about whether her community is ready for a potential outbreak of the virus and if her team is well enough resourced to respond.

"We're trying to stay focused on the task that's in front of us," Ms Garstone said.

"We've got 80 per cent of our staff that are local community members, they're very concerned about their local community and families.

"They're willing to do anything and everything so they're multitasking on a daily basis."

"I'm really concerned that there's not going to be enough resources and there's going to come a time when our staff will need a break, and I'm not sure whether they will be able to get that break."


Ms Garstone said the Coronavirus case had come from someone who had just arrived in the community.

This means it's considered relatively 'low risk' for the Halls Creek community but she said she's disappointed that this was able to happen.

"I think it was underestimated around the Kimberley region being at high risk," Ms Garstone said.

"There was two different types of rules around the FIFO workers protocols.

"There were essential services that could come into the community without being quarantined but I really believe that we should have had in place from day one that they needed to be quarantined before they even set foot into the KImberley.

"In the Halls Creek community we took it upon ourselves that kids returning from boarding school interstate or in Perth to quarantine them as soon as they got back to Halls Creek.

"We've done that as a community measure to minimise the risk of it coming into our community and now this happens, it's just absolutely devastating."

Ms O'Donnell agreed, saying the larger towns in the KImberley are just as vulnerable to COVID-19 as the more remote communities.

"I keep saying that our people are just as vulnerable in the towns as they are in the remote communities," she said.

"There are new restrictions now that will ban people from moving in and out of their designated shire to ensure there's no spread of the virus.

"The cases we already have are being managed but we don't want to see anymore. I think this is something that has shocked a lot of people, we didn't think it was ever going to happen."

While Ms O'Donnell said the Kimberley has been shocked by these COVID-19 cases, she said there's lots of work being done to ensure health services will be adequately resourced to deal if there is an outbreak of the virus.

"There is lots of work being done in the background," she said.

"We would struggle if an outbreak happened today, but the current cases are being managed. There's lot's of good work being done to make sure the Kimberley is being protected."

But Ms Garstone said the Halls Creek community, and the Yura Yunga health service will need more support to deal with stopping the spread of COVID-19.

"I believe a community pandemic plan for Halls Creek needs to be put in place as soon as possible," she said.

"This has to be number one priority right now. I really believe there needs to be a really clear response package for Halls Creek right now."

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The potential impact of the coronavirus on Indigenous communities has led to tight restrictions on entry and self-quarantine, but overnight came reports of five health workers testing positive to COVID-19 in several locations in the Kimberley.