Victorians who drank beers and dined at the same place as a person with COVID-19 have been caught up in a contact tracing mix-up, sparking fears authorities won’t be able to track the spread of the virus.
On Monday, patrons received a text message from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services notifying them that a positive COVID-19 case had dined at Stomping Ground Brewing in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood between 6pm and 7.30pm on December 28.
All were urged to get tested and self-isolate until they received a negative test result.
That advice was later escalated on Tuesday, when the DHHS website was updated to advise patrons to quarantine until January 11, regardless of the test result.
The situation appeared serious.
Then on Thursday – nine days after the exposure – diners started receiving calls and messages from contact tracers who had the wrong names and details of patrons who were potentially exposed.
“They called me today and got all the wrong information from the venue,” said Mark, a young doctor from Melbourne’s northern suburbs who did not want his real name published.
“They called me thinking I was Steve, and then they called my girlfriend thinking she was someone else. It’s just a mess.”
Several patrons had multiple case files open, and received phone calls from different groups of contact tracers.
“All the data seems to have been mixed up,” Collingwood local Zach Miller said.
“A contact tracer told me it probably wasn’t the venue’s fault, but maybe something to do with the data transfer potentially linked to the QR codes.”
Hampton woman Emma Bartholomeusz said she was called twice and was the subject of two open cases.
“The updates from DHHS change so frequently that it’s hard to keep up,” she told TND.
DHHS confirmed to TND on Thursday evening that there was an issue obtaining correct contact details for the Stomping Ground patrons.
But Stomping Ground co-founder Justin Joiner said he didn’t know about “any dramas with the contact details” until TND contacted him.
He said the company had promptly emailed a spreadsheet to DHHS with all the names and mobile numbers of patrons who attended the venue on December 28.
“On Monday morning, when we found out about what had happened, we put our own plan in place straight away without waiting for advice,” he said.
“We contacted everybody that had booked via email, then everybody on our QR code register as well as our staff, well before we handed that data over to DHHS.”
A text message alert sent by Stomping Ground on Monday, obtained by TND, urged all patrons who visited the venue during the exposure time to get tested immediately and self-isolate until receiving a negative result, as per “current advice from the DHHS”.
It is compulsory for Stomping Ground patrons to enter their details at a QR code check-in desk before entering the beer hall, and again when ordering drinks during table service.
“It’s odd that we haven’t heard from anybody saying there’s been a mix-up,” said Mr Joiner, who added he empathised with Victoria’s contact tracing team.
“I know there has been a lot of DHHS-bashing going on within the industry, but I don’t think it’s helpful. We need people to believe in the system if we’re going to make it work.”
DHHS is investigating the source of the data mix-up.
So far, only one positive case has been identified as a patron of Stomping Ground during the exposure period.
No other cases have been linked to the popular beer hall.
Sydney’s Test match guest list shrinks again
Meanwhile, the list of western Sydney suburbs banned from attending the SCG Test is increasing as authorities hunt for the source of a mystery COVID-19 infection.
The list now includes Belmore and Wentworthville.
They join Berala, Auburn, Lidcombe North, Regents Park, Potts Hill and Rookwood as suburbs where living or working there could see people slapped with a $1000 fine for attending the Test.
It came after Acting Premier John Barilaro on Wednesday morning confirmed four locally acquired COVID-19 infections.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard again defended the state government’s decision to go ahead with the Test and argued it was a mental health issue.
On Wednesday, Victoria issued urgent COVID alerts after a new ‘mystery case’ attended the Melbourne Cricket Ground Test match and Boxing Day sales at the crowded Chadstone shopping centre.
Just one new local case was recorded in Victoria on Wednesday, but health authorities are worried the new case in Melbourne may have picked up his infection at the Boxing Day Test.