Genetic test to confirm link between nurse and Nathan Turner
A ROCKHAMPTON nurse has allegedly changed details about her whereabouts to public health officials so many times, they cannot be certain where she acquired coronavirus, or whether she may have infected a Blackwater coal miner, whose death has been linked to COVID-19.
Queensland Health will have to await the results of genetic sequencing on the novel coronavirus strain that infected Nathan Turner to see whether it matches samples provided by the enrolled nurse.
Those tests can only be performed once Pathology Queensland receives samples from the coroner investigating 30-year-old Mr Turner's death. The results will also depend on whether the samples contain enough of the virus to be able to sequence it.
"I don't know how long that will take," Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said yesterday.
New details have emerged that the Rockhampton aged care nurse had been overseas two months ago, returning from Kuala Lumpur, via Singapore, in late March, a detail she had initially failed to disclose to contact tracers trying to piece together how she may have become infected with the new virus and who she may have passed it on to.
The North Rockhampton Nursing Centre went into lockdown after she was confirmed as having the virus on May 14. Since then, no staff members or residents have tested positive.
Health officials said at the time the nurse, who had been working behind a glass partition and had minimal contact with residents after a work injury, had continued to work while experiencing symptoms. She had also gone back to the nursing home while awaiting the results of her test for the virus - in breach of Dr Young's aged care directives.
Queensland Health has pledged an external investigation into the case, last night announcing the terms of reference.
The investigation will focus on events between May 3 and May 18, including the period when the nurse continued working "while experiencing respiratory symptoms".
"Investigators will also scrutinise the state-run nursing centre to determine if there were any workplace issues that contributed to the nurse's actions," a Queensland Health spokesman said.
"The investigators will develop a factual sequence of key events spanning when the nurse first developed symptoms to when she was suspended from work."
The investigation report is due to be released in early July.
Public health specialists had initially believed the nurse, who has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, had become infected during a trip to Brisbane on April 30-May 1 to see an orthopaedic specialist.
But that theory has been questioned since Mr Turner's death, the first known case of COVID-19 in Queensland's outback, after the nurse revealed to contact tracers for the first time she had recently travelled overseas.
The nurse has also told contact tracers she drove the almost 400km round trip from Rockhampton to Blackwater and back in the second week of May to see a sunrise - in breach of public health restrictions.
Queensland Health said in a statement earlier this week contact tracing information was that the nurse "did not interact with other individuals" while in the mining town. Mr Turner is understood to have developed respiratory symptoms in the first week of May.
The Nurses' Professional Association of Queensland, an alternative industrial body to the Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union, has disputed the department's timeline for the nurse's Blackwater trip.
NPAQ claims the trip occurred after the aged care worker had served 14 days' quarantine following her overseas trip, which would have put her in the town in early to mid-April.
When questioned about the discrepancies at a news conference yesterday, Dr Young said: "I don't have all of the specifics because the story has changed so many times.
"That's part of the investigation. She gave us one story and then subsequent to that we found out additional information. We need to try and untangle and sort that through. That's very, very important."
While stressing he did not want to comment on an individual case, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles urged Queenslanders to tell the truth if public health officials contacted them, "no matter what it's about".
"It is incredibly important that you are honest, truthful and fulsome in what you tell them, lives are literally at risk," Mr Miles said. "Their motivations are simply to keep Queenslanders safe."
Mr Miles said it was "disappointing that someone would lie to our public health officials".
While inquiries continue into how Mr Turner was infected with the virus and whether the nurse was involved, the Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union called on all Queenslanders, both individuals and organisations, to refrain from making any further comments that could jeopardise the outcome of any investigations.
Meanwhile, the NPAQ has taken aim at Labor MP for Keppel Brittany Lauga, lambasting her for using "confidential information gleaned from Queensland Health COVID investigations to humiliate the nurse".
Ms Lauga revealed earlier this week the nurse had told contact tracers she'd driven to Blackwater to "see a sunset".
She said she wanted to see the woman fined for breaking restrictions for non-essential travel.
"It's irresponsible. It's against the law," Ms Lauga said.
"It doesn't make sense to anyone I've spoken to who lives in this region why you wouldn't get out of the car, go to the loo or anything and we rely on people being honest with their contact tracing."
The NPAQ hit back saying: "We believe the middle aged nurse who is under heavy medication for a back injury has been made a scapegoat. Ms Lauga has cherry picked information which has mischaracterised the nurse's trip to the lookout near Blackwater. She undertook that trip after being in self isolation for two weeks. She simply wanted to stretch her legs and have a look at the world as any sane human would."
Originally published as Rockhampton nurse accused of changing story 'many times'