An emerging COVID-19 outbreak is disproportionately affecting Dareton’s Indigenous community, who account for 15 of 17 active cases in the far west New South Wales border town.
Ten motorhomes have been rerouted from Wilcannia to help residents who are unable to safely isolate in their homes.
Barkindji woman and Coomealla Health Aboriginal Corporation (CHAC) CEO Summer Hunt said children have been most affected.
“Most of the cases are teenagers or babies, that’s what’s really concerning,” she said.
“The first three and four days were really hard for them with breathing, vomiting, just hurting, back pain but they seem to be doing all right.”
While authorities are still investigating how COVID-19 got into the town, Ms Hunt said she believes it came from Wilcannia or Broken Hill.
“A lot of our mob went to the funeral, got stuck there, and are just coming back to the community now,” she said.
“We have the same crisis of overcrowding in our community that was just passing COVID onto the next, onto the next."
According to the Far West Local Health District, 54 per cent of Dareton’s general population have been fully vaccinated as of 6 October, but rates amongst the town’s Indigenous people are unclear.
Ms Hunt said confusing AstraZeneca advice contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Dareton when immunisations first became available.
“Because we only had Astra back then, they were dead set against having it because of what they were hearing,” she said.
“It’s taken this outbreak for our mob to rush in and want to be vaccinated.”
Since Friday, CHAC has administered vaccines for at least 70 of the town’s Indigenous population of 195.
“It’s positive that they’re now rolling up their sleeves but if we could have done it a month or two months ago, maybe we wouldn't be in this situation,” Ms Hunt said.
CHAC was forced to temporarily suspend its services on Friday after one of its staff members’ children tested positive.
“We're still operating on skeleton staff with a high influx of patients but we’re doing our best,” Ms Hunt said.
Only five of CHAC’s 28 employees are currently able to work.
“Yesterday, I took my CEO hat off, put my nursing hat on and rolled up my sleeves to help in the clinic,” Ms Hunt said.
Ms Hunt said she's requested extra help from the state government.
“I reached out and I said we need extra PPE, emergency relief in regards to food or cleaning products that were provided out to Wilcannia,” she said.
Yawuru woman and epidemiologist Dr Kalinda Griffiths has been urging the government to release desegregated data since the start of the pandemic, in order to better support communities like Dareton.
“If we don't have all the case numbers and rates then we don’t know what resources are needed,” she said.
“If we know there is a community that requires more support in vaccine uptake, then that data is going to say, “Hey, we've got 20% over here, we need help.”
Until more assistance arrives, CHAC is urging the local community to get vaccinated.
“We have to work together and we’ll get through this as a team, as a strong, proud community,” Ms Hunt said.
“We just need you guys to come to get vaccinated and look after each other.”