Kirstin Nicholson, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
It was a crazy few hours on Wednesday, May 26, when the Cohuna Kangas announced on its Facebook page that a person who attended their footy and netball matches on Saturday, May 22 had since tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the Kangas’ announcement, posted at 9.35am, they had received information that someone who attended the recreation reserve for the Cohuna Kangas versus Tooleybuc/Manangatang match had since tested positive, and they were awaiting official government confirmation.
Cohuna Kangas Football Netball Club Board Chair, Rick Easton, said he received a phone call from Northern District Community Health’s (NDCH) CEO, Mandy Hutchinson early that morning. “We thought we’d better put a post out there on our Facebook page informing that there was a likelihood of a positive case, and it was subject to clarification from the Department of Health. We put it out there as a precursor I guess, while we were expecting the official notification to come around 10am. It was just to let people know. It was a good thing we did, it got people into gear. It’s a great pick up from the community and everyone got around it.”
The town was sent into a flurry. Apart from the Kangas’ Facebook post, there was no official community-wide notification, and no official government announcement, leaving many wondering what was happening. The old bush telegraph was working at full capacity and social media was running wild.
Reinforcing the information throughout the day were snippets from various people who had been told the news when they went for medical appointments, by their employer, a school or childcare provider. Still, there was no public official announcement.
It was not until 5pm Wednesday afternoon, that the Victorian Department of Health publicly listed the recreation reserve at Cohuna as a Tier 2 exposure site on its website.
By this stage, hundreds of locals had heeded the call and had been tested at NDCH’s Cohuna venue. In fact, on the first day of testing, 268 people were tested, and over the three days that testing was offered locally, around 700 people were tested.
Mandy Hutchinson, CEO of NDCH, said, “This is how we do things in rural areas. Everyone pulls together and helps each other out. Local services, community groups and individuals have really stepped up to keep each other safe. I’m so proud of our community.”
Some spent almost four hours in the queue. It was a sight we hope we don’t see in town again – the line extending from NDCH’s makeshift tents in King Edward Street, down to the memorial garden in the Shire lawns.
Being first in the queue did not equate to an early return of results. In fact, some of those who were tested on the Wednesday waited longer for results than those tested on the following days. Some results were back in a matter of hours, while some people waited six days, causing a great deal of anxiousness.
The Cohuna Consolidated School, which had its open day and information evening scheduled for Wednesday, postponed both events – just two of many events around the town that were postponed. Yoga classes were cancelled because the instructor had been in the footy canteen, and many businesses closed their doors because staff had been tested and were isolating.
Rick Easton explained that Gannawarra Shire Council has put signs up at the complex advising it is closed until further notice, and that Council will be undertaking a deep clean of the amenities.
Rick says all the club can do now is sit back and wait. He is thankful to the community for doing their part. “All the players and members have been awesome,” he said. “We’re just waiting for when we can get back into the Rec. Reserve and start playing community sport again. It’s all in the hands of the health department. I want to praise the efforts of NDCH and their allies, Bendigo Health, the hospital, the Shire, Kerang District Health, and all the community really. It’s been a terrific response to an ordinary situation.”
When asked about the exposure and what steps Gannawarra Shire Council took following notification (and several other questions), CEO, Tom O’Reilly’s response was, “The Department of Health are the incident controllers for the Tier 2 classification at Cohuna and their directions have been publicly communicated through various media.”
And how are we feeling about all this? It has been a mixed bag. For most it is a mixture of surprised, shocked and saddened that this had happened to our town. Many are also worried and anxious about the repercussions. Afterall, on that first day, we had no concrete information about exposure sites and times. “Where else had the person visited?” “If I have been exposed, who else have I been in contact with?” Then there are the implications of having to isolate while awaiting results – loss of wages, closing of businesses and not being allowed to leave home at all.
What has stood out above all, is that the community answered the call. You all did what was asked of you so your family, friends, loved ones and our community could remain safe.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed or worried, you can call the following:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Headspace 1800 650 590
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 3 June 2021.