When Jodi Willard tested positive for COVID-19 she isolated inside her home alone, but after 14 days she still has to stay inside because she can’t get the paperwork she needs to leave.
The 17-year-old tested positive on August 31st and immediately followed the instructions from the NSW Health team to isolate at home.
As a traffic controller in Northmead, Ms Willard was getting regularly tested before going to work, but she was not experiencing any severe symptoms and was surprised to learn she had contracted the virus.
“I didn’t get any contact that day, but the next day I did get a call from them and they basically just asked me about my symptoms,” she said.
In NSW, people who have caught COVID are only allowed to leave isolation after receiving discharge papers from NSW Health, even if they have completed the 14-day isolation period.
Those isolating can face a $5,000 fine if they leave home before getting those discharge papers.
On the first call she received from authorities, Ms Willard asked about the process of getting cleared to leave her home.
“They’re like, ‘Don’t worry, someone’s going to call you closer to your clearance and they’re going to provide all the information for you’,” she said.
“But I never got a call.”
In fact, she said early on police came to check on her regularly, but then contact from the police stopped as well — she now thinks it has been about 14 days since she heard from anyone.
Five days before her isolation was set to finish, Ms Willard began calling to find out how to get her discharge papers, but so far she has had no luck and it is now 17 days since her isolation began.
“I just want to be able to get to work — I can’t even go out the house, I can’t even really check the mailbox because I live in an apartment and I can’t even go for a walk,” she said.
As a minor, living alone, it has been tough on both her and her mum.
“It’s been really hard, especially on my mental health,” she said.
“It’s just really hard being stuck in this place all day by myself.”
She has spent days calling the numbers provided to her and being passed on to other call centres, which each say they can’t issue discharge papers.
One number she had been given simply rings out until it goes to a voicemail.
“I’ve left about five different voice messages since last Thursday.”
She is hoping to hear from someone before Monday so she can return to work.
NSW Health encourages people to get in touch with authorities
After a public health call centre worker came forward on Wednesday, saying she had spoken to people who had not received their discharge papers up to 38 days after first testing positive, NSW Health issued a statement to the ABC.
To questions about whether there was a delay issuing discharge papers to some people who were told to self isolate, a spokesperson said teams had worked to streamline the release of those isolating.
“All people with COVID-19 are clinically assessed as to the care level required for their management,” they said.
“The majority of COVID-19 patients, 90 per cent, are being cared for in the community at home or in NSW Health’s Special Health Accommodation.
“If any COVID-19 patients have concerns with their release from isolation they can contact their GP, local healthcare team or their local health district public health unit.”
The national criminal justice spokesperson of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns SC, said it was unfair that delays could be disproportionately affecting people without financial resources who were unlikely to have access to legal representation.
“In wealthy areas and wealthy communities, if this sort of practice goes on and we have over-policing and bureaucratic incompetence … you would find that people would get legal advice and certainly be making a song and dance about it,” he said.
He called on the NSW government to compensate people who were unnecessarily forced to stay in isolation after 14 days because of delays in paperwork.
Family stuck at home beyond 14 days
Tash Moon and her husband were initially told they would need to isolate for 14 days when he received a positive test result on August 29.
Ms Moon and her husband have also been trying to get discharge papers, but 19 days after the positive test they had still had no luck.
“He hasn’t heard from New South Wales Health at all, since he got the positive test,” she said.
The situation has been more confusing for Ms Moon because of conflicting advice she said she received from call centre workers.
When her husband first tested positive, she sought advice about her own health and isolation status.
As a close contact, she was eventually told to get tested on day seven of her husband’s isolation and then again after day 12. If both tests came back negative, she was told she would be free to leave isolation as well.
But upon checking the fact sheet they had been provided, she realised she needed to obtain discharge papers as well.
“I just started crying, I felt like my world came crashing down, I thought I could at least let my children out for a walk,” she said.
“I called the public health line and I spoke to a gentleman again and he said, ‘No, from my understanding, you can go free’.”
After again checking the NSW Health website, she found this was not the case and spoke to another woman at the call centre.
“She’s like, ‘OK, what it could be is that these were made before everything got out of hand’.”
Again she was told she should be fine to leave isolation, despite what the fact sheets said.
“I want to trust them [the call centre workers], I honestly do. But then the New South Wales [Health] website tells me otherwise and in bold,” she said.
“I don’t want to set foot outside and do the wrong thing.”
Ms Moon’s husband did eventually receive a call on his 20th day of isolation but still has not received his discharge papers.
As for Ms Moon, she is considering following the advice from the call centres and returning to work.
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