• The town of Gulgargambone, in western NSW has recorded one COVID-19 case today. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The small town of Gulargambone, just over 100km north of Dubbo, has recorded its first case of COVID-19 as the western outbreak continues to grow.
By
Keira Jenkins

Source:
NITV-AAP
23 Aug 2021 - 8:24 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2021 - 8:24 PM

The coronavirus has reached another remote community with a large Aboriginal population, with Gulargambone, recording a new case on Monday.

The tiny western NSW town, when last measured, had a population of 400 people with almost half Indigenous.

The local Bawrunga Aboriginal Medical Service, which operates in Gulargambone, Gilgandra and Dubbo, said they’re under pressure as cases in their region continue to rise.

Practice manager Steven McMahon said the virus could have a huge impact.

“In a community like Gulargambone where there is a lot of chronic disease, it was always going to be a concern,” he told NITV News.

“Now that we have a case, we’re watching to see what impact that has.

“I think there is a lot of fear, but there hasn’t been a stampede, it’s been people wanting information on how they go about getting vaccines and how they protect themselves.”

Testing delays

Mr McMahon was tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday, August 18, and on Monday night – five days later, he was waiting for the results.

“There is concern within the community about the delay,” he said.

“The demand for testing has increased, that’s adding pressure to the NSW Health and private health, they’re being inundated.”

Mr McMahon said he’s depended on his support system over the past five days, but is concerned about people who may not have that option.

“I’ve got people to go and get essentials for me and drop them off outside without any contact,” he said.

“Unfortunately I do worry that perhaps there are people in the community that don’t have that network, and that’s always a great concern.”

'Getting very tough'

The Bawrunga health service is stretched to capacity.

“At Gulargambone we had to divert the phones to Dubbo today,” Mr McMahon said.

“The doctor was doing video and phone consults out of Gulargambone. We’ve been able to manage it but it is getting very tough.

“At the moment I’ve got two, three staff down and a doctor down, all waiting on test results.

“We’re all working remotely and keeping the services there for the community.”

Ultimately, Mr McMahon said there were warnings that a potential third wave, especially if the virus got into remote and regional communities could be devastating.

He said the best way through this is for people to take up the vaccine, continue to follow the health orders and look out for each other during a difficult time.

“We were warned about this third wave that this would be the one that could really hit hard and I think we’re seeing that,” he said.

“There has been increased demand for vaccinations, which is good, but it would have been nice to have happened a few weeks ago .

“Regardless it’s good people are coming forward to get the vaccine because I think that is going to be the key to getting back to some sort of normality.”

Goodooga records six new cases

Six new COVID-19 cases in the "big family" of Goodooga in remote northwest NSW are of significant concern, authorities say.

Having recorded two COVID-19 cases late last week, Goodooga recorded six more cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday.

The town of about 250 mostly Indigenous people, north of Brewarrina near the NSW-Queensland border, was swabbed en masse late last week after the first cases were reported.

NSW Health data shows that as of last week, vaccination rates in the town were lower than 10 per cent. However authorities say there has since been a local vaccination drive.

Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service acting manager Katrina Ward last week told AAP about 160 jabs were administered locally.

Western NSW chief executive Scott McLachlan said the situation in Goodooga nevertheless remained of major concern.

The town, like all of regional NSW, is in lockdown until at least August 28. Sydney is in lockdown until at least late September.

"It's a community we've got to have top of our priorities, to help people get tested and vaccinated," Mr McLachlan told reporters.

"I know it's tough (there), a big family in the whole of the community, but it is time to keep your distance ... stay safe."

Across the Western NSW local health district there were 24 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday. In total, the district is now managing 283 COVID-positive people.

Of these, 234 people are in the Dubbo area.

Five people in the district are in intensive care, with one ventilated.

"We need to assume it is in every community, your next door neighbour, down the street," Mr McLachlan said, adding there was still too much movement between communities.

Mr McLachlan also confirmed that Narromine Hospital to the west of Dubbo would be transformed into a dedicated COVID-19 hospital, catering particularly to northwest NSW communities.

Bathurst Hospital's emergency department will also be expanded.

"We know we're going to need patients closer to our intensive care and highly skilled clinicians in Dubbo," he said.

The Far West local health district recorded three new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, but Deputy Premier John Barilaro said on Monday that 15 more positive cases had come in after the reporting period ended, all of which are in Wilcannia.

Of the three cases reported on Monday, one was in Wilcannia, where a funeral held before the area was locked down has caused concern for health authorities. Two cases turned up in Broken Hill.

People who have been in Wilcannia should be tested even if they don't display symptoms, Mr Barilaro told reporters.

Mr Barilaro also said Cobar, Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange residents need to turn out in big numbers for virus testing. 

NSW Labor health spokesman Ryan Park criticised the government for major delays in processing virus tests and said the western NSW health system was in crisis pre-pandemic.

In some cases, residents have waited up to six days for test results.

"Now with the pandemic in the community, the hospitals and health care workers are under enormous pressure," Mr Park said.

"The best way for us to bring this pandemic under control is to make sure we are detecting cases early ... that is not happening."

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