Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it?

Victoria’s contact tracing system has faced criticism in the past for being inefficient, with officials flying to New South Wales in September to learn from that state.



a person in a car: Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


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Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Comparisons are difficult in a pandemic because each outbreak has its own unique characteristics. That said, there are some key features that underpin the differing responses of NSW and Victoria when it comes to contact tracing.

Fundamentally, NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing. These teams worked independently but also in concert under the mothership of NSW Health.



a person in a car: ‘NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing.’


© Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
‘NSW’s system of decentralised local area health districts meant when the second wave hit, that state was able to draw on teams embedded in their local communities to manage contact tracing.’

Related: Sun, sand and coronavirus: Australia aims to enforce a Covid-safe summer

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In Victoria, a legacy of cuts left the Department of Health and Human Services under-resourced and highly centralised, meaning there was a smaller base upon which to build the surge contact tracing capacity (with some contact tracers coming from interstate).

This was further challenged with the rapid rise in daily new cases, from 65 to 288 in one week alone in July. Systems had to be developed quickly to manage large quantities of data and feed it back to a central hub. The state had to “build the aeroplane while flying”.

Much has changed since then, and for the better. Some hard lessons have been learned along the way but the contact tracing system in Victoria is now very comprehensive and increasingly robust.

Community engagement, local knowledge

Community engagement and local knowledge might seem like buzzwords but in a pandemic, they’re vital to ring-fencing a cluster.

NSW’s system of devolved public health units and teams meant when local outbreaks occurred, locally embedded health workers were at an advantage. They’re already linked with local area health providers for testing, they already have relationships with community members and community leaders, and they know the physical layout of the area.

If you’re doing a contact tracing interview with someone and they’re talking about a key landmark at a certain time of day, you can visualise it and understand what it means in terms of risk.

What’s crucial is a nuanced understanding of local, social, and cultural factors that may facilitate spread or affect how people understand self-isolation and what’s being asked of them. It can also make a critical difference in encouraging people to come forward for testing.

It’s not just about making sure you

White House not contact tracing Rose Garden event considered possible ‘superspreader’: report

The White House is not contact tracing guests and staff who attended a Rose Garden event for the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite many viewing it as a possible spreader of the coronavirus, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The celebration, which took place 10 days ago, is viewed by some as the potential epicenter or “superspreader” of the White House’s coronavirus outbreak because it has been followed by at least 11 attendees testing positive for COVID-19, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpQuestions remain unanswered as White House casts upbeat outlook on Trump’s COVID-19 fight White House staffers get email saying to stay home if they experience coronavirus symptoms White House says ‘appropriate precautions’ were taken for Trump’s outing to see supporters MORE, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpGOP lawmaker calls on Pelosi to apologize for response to Trump contracting coronavirus White House gave New Jersey officials list of 206 people at Trump’s Thursday fundraiser events Photo of Mark Meadows rubbing his head during update on Trump’s health goes viral MORE, adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayBarr reverses, will quarantine for several days after potential coronavirus exposure White House gave New Jersey officials list of 206 people at Trump’s Thursday fundraiser events Pence tests negative for COVID-19 for third time since Trump’s diagnosis MORE, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, at least three Republican senators and other White House staff.

An unnamed White House official told the Times on Monday that officials were not contact tracing those connected to the event.

Contact tracing includes public health workers trying to stop COVID-19 transmission by reaching out to people who have tested positive for the disease and asking them to both self-isolate and provide a list of people they had contact with 48 hours before becoming sick, who will, in turn, also get a call. In this way, health officials are able to stop the potential spread of the virus before it can be passed on to someone else.

The White House is still technically following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that require contact tracing for the 48 hours leading up to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the official told the Times. 

Public health experts have criticized the decision not to contact trace the Rose Garden event, however.

“This is a total abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration,” Boston University public health expert Joshua Barocas told the Times. 

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday, shortly after it was revealed his close aide Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House staffers get email saying to stay home if they experience coronavirus symptoms Trump sought to keep COVID-19 diagnosis secret Thursday as he awaited second test result: WSJ What we know and don’t know about the president’s health MORE had tested positive. In the following days, several others announced positive diagnoses. 

On Monday, Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after three days of treatment.

The White House Is Failing to Contact Trace Its Own COVID Outbreak: Report

In the wake of the president’s positive coronavirus test on Thursday night, the administration has claimed that it has initiated a “full contact tracing” program that is “consistent with CDC guidelines.” But according to a new CNN report, the White House that failed to protect a non-compliant president from the pandemic is failing to trace its own outbreak, a crucial, post-infection step that can significantly limit the spread of the virus if properly executed.



a clock tower lit up at night: Getty Images


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Similar to White House staffers’ negligence prior to Trump’s positive test — he went to an indoor buffet with donors on Thursday hours after officials reportedly learned of Hope Hicks’s diagnosis — the administration has not provided guidance to those exposed or infected by the president and his inner circle. Chris Christie, the president’s debate coach who tested positive this weekend, said that the administration gave no formal directions on contact tracing. And another source admitted that “the scale of the potential contagion at the White House has made it difficult to mount the type of contact tracing that will be required in the coming days,” according to CNN.

The White House Medical Unit, the 30-person team responsible for the health needs of the president and close advisors, was already overworked attempting to keep Trump healthy despite his pandemic carelessness. To engage in contact tracing on top of their previous workload would be a major addition, and according to the report “a person familiar with the matter said a full CDC contact tracing team hadn’t yet been mobilized.” Another federal official told the New York Times that a Centers for Disease Control team was on standby to help, but the White House had yet to call them in. Meanwhile, the White House is doing little to aid local health agencies. The Washington Post reported Saturday that public-health officials in Minnesota, Ohio, and New Jersey had yet to hear from the administration

regarding the information of those in attendance, leaving them on their own to find out who may have been exposed to the virus.

Rather than mobilize the resources of the CDC, the administration — which exposed hundreds of people between the debate on Tuesday, the rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and the indoor buffet on Thursday — is reportedly going for a fast-and-loose that mimics their initial pandemic response. According to one source who spoke with CNN, the White House is relying on the president’s celebrity as a fallback for contact tracing. “People would know if they come into contact with Trump,” the person said.

However, the scale of the problem — and the fact that infected people can infect family members while asymptomatic — frustrates this effort to allow the news cycle to do the contact tracing. (Over 200 people attended his campaign fundraiser at his golf club in New Jersey on Thursday.) While contact tracing is a laborious effort, it is not impossible: Benjy Renton, a Middlebury senior and digital director at the school’s newspaper, has set

Public Health Officials Scramble To Contact Trace Trump : NPR

President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport on Wednesday in Duluth, Minn.

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President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport on Wednesday in Duluth, Minn.

Alex Brandon/AP

Public health officials in the cities and states that President Trump visited in recent days are working to contact those who had been in close proximity to him, the first lady and others who traveled with him.

Since he’s tested positive for the coronavirus, health officials worry those who attended events with the president could have contracted the virus too.

Over the past two weeks, Trump attended events in the swing states of Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, as well as a fundraiser in New Jersey and of course, the presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio. He also went to his golf club in Potomac Falls, Va., and hosted an event announcing his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the White House.

One of the people attending that event, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, has also tested positive, though it is not clear if he was infected at that time, or if he may have contracted the virus there.

“Contact tracing is going to be really important,” Dr. David Banach, an infectious diseases physician in the University of Connecticut’s health system, told the Associated Press. “The president comes into contact with many individuals during the day.”

It’s a situation that Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, calls a “nightmare.”

He told NPR’s Morning Edition that the incubation period for the coronavirus is is two to 14 days but in reality, it is usually three to five days.

“He has been around a lot of people over the last five, seven days and certainly in the last couple of days when he was likely infectious, he was around a lot of folks, including Vice President Biden,” Jha said. “I suspect many senior members of the government are going to have to go into quarantine. There’s a lot of work ahead. This is going to be complicated. This is — while of course it’s about the president — it’s not just about the president.”

At the debate Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden in Cleveland, neither wore masks on stage. The president has often downplayed mask-wearing and he mocked Biden for wearing his often. Dr. Amy Edwards, a professor of infectious diseases at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says coronavirus could have been incubating in the president even then.

“He did test negative while he was here just prior to the debate but that was the rapid test,” Edwards says, “so I don’t know that we can really rely on that test to say he was definitely negative.

The mayor of Duluth, Minn., where Trump attended a rally Wednesday night with his wife Melania, and top advisor Hope