• Tony Bosworth

Hawkesbury cases rise by 1 and WestRock staff eventually get a text from NSW Health

Hawkesbury active COVID cases rose by a single person today to 85 in total and meanwhile some WestRock employees who have had to isolate after a person who works at the North Richmond plant confirmed to the company they had COVID a week ago have at last been contacted by NSW Health.

The lag between a person with COVID visiting a venue, as NSW Health call it, and people who were there being officially informed, is causing concern in the community, not least amongst those WestRock workers who had to go home and isolate. It suggests the system is under significant strain.

We’ve been contacted by several workers at the plant since the COVID incident last week who have been concerned about what they say is poor messaging from the company and NSW Health’s apparent lack of knowledge about the situation.

The time-lag between a person with COVID visiting a venue and it becoming public knowledge – or even sometimes knowledge for people who have visited that venue - appears to be on average 7 days, that’s 7 days when most of the community are not aware of the incident and the virus may be spreading in the broader community.

WestRock’s Country Manager, Frank Federico, got in touch with the Post this evening to let us know how the company had handled the situation and to answer some questions about how it all unfolded.

“A factory-based worker at WestRock confirmed that they were COVID positive on Monday, August 23 before attending work,” said Mr Federico.

“We’ve been in contact with the affected worker during the course of last week and this week to make sure they are okay. We immediately sent the entire shift that would have normally worked with the affected worker home. All workers at WestRock were able to have COVID tests on site on the Monday.

“We advised anyone who hadn’t had a COVID test to get one. Deep cleaning of the site took place on Monday afternoon. We continue to encourage all employees to be vaccinated ASAP in order to avail themselves of the maximum protection available,” he said.

One worker, who didn’t want to be named, told the Post today that they had, “called NSW Health when the company told us a COVID positive person had been in the factory and they had no knowledge of it at all”.

“They [the company] are only just now telling people that they are close contacts a week after having contact with a confirmed case. We aren’t sure why it is so difficult to look at their sign in system to see who might be a close contact. Everyone was still waiting to hear anything official from NSW Health as they are supposedly running two weeks behind.”

This worker says they were sent a text message from NSW Health last night – the first contact they had from the department – 7 days after they were first told they might potentially be a close contact. They have been isolating during that time.

Mr Federico told us, “WestRock has provided free on-site COVID tests twice a week to all of its workers for a few weeks now. Additionally, mask wearing inside the factory has been compulsory for a number of weeks. The respective morning, afternoon, and nightshifts have also been segregated for a number of weeks to minimise the potential for any virus transfer.”

He said staff classified as close contacts of the affected worker had been asked to remain in isolation for two weeks in line with NSW Health guidelines.

“We asked all casual contacts to obtain a further COVID test following Monday and then a further Rapid Antigen Test also supplied by WestRock today – Monday - before entering the factory.”

He says WestRock contacted NSW Health on the day the company was made aware of the COVID-positive case and also in the days following Monday the 23rd.

“Our understanding is that the affected close-contact employees were all contacted by NSW Health,” he said.

“One of these people who were told today that they are a close contact has been out in public,” said the worker.

“They were expecting to go to work tomorrow but have just been told by NSW Health to isolate for 14 days.”

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