‘She’s not a criminal’: Relative of youth detention worker with COVID-19 says she’s been vilified

An immediate family member says the youth detention supervisor who tested positive to COVID-19 this week has been “dehumanised” politically for the sake of a few sound bites.

Speaking exclusively to ABC News, he defended her actions in turning up to work while infectious.

The 77-year-old woman from Ipswich was criticised by the Queensland Premier and Chief Health Officer for working five shifts at the Wacol Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane while she was sick, forcing the centre into lockdown.

The close family member, who did not want to be identified, said the experienced supervisor had no reason to believe she was infectious.

“She had a headache on the second-to-last day she worked, and a headache and a bit of a sore ear on the last day.

“It seems that it’s been pretty much portrayed as someone who’s been quite irresponsible and has knowingly gone to work symptomatic and infectious and risked other people’s lives.”

Brisbane Youth Detention Centre.
The woman worked five shifts at the detention centre not knowing she had COVID-19.(ABC News: Joshua Robertson)

Source of infection remains a mystery

The man said he had been in frequent contact with the woman, who remained in hospital as more than 500 of her colleagues underwent testing.

“She seems to think that she’s on the other side of it but you know, we’re not really sure,” he said.

How the woman contracted the virus remains a mystery to health authorities and the family.

“She hasn’t been out and about in the community in any great way, pretty much just in and out of work,” the family member added.

The ABC understands Queensland Health is awaiting genomic testing to see whether the woman’s case is linked to the two Logan women who returned from Victoria last month.

two women in scrubs and PPE holding test tubes surrounded by cars
Testing is yet to determine the source of the woman’s COVID-19 infection.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

So far, 56 inmates at the youth detention centre have been tested and have shown no signs of infection.

“That’s the only thing that we can logically think that it could be related to because she works in an environment where there is quite a high representation of detainees from that Logan area and staff as well,” the woman’s relative said.

He said while the family was not looking for an apology from authorities, they felt it important the Government remembered each case was more than a statistic.

“Don’t forget, don’t dehumanise people and forget that they are victims now themselves and they need our care and consideration right now,” he said.

‘I don’t blame this person’

Griffith University virologist Nigel McMillan said he felt for the woman and that it made sense she was not showing signs of illness.

“Around 80 per cent of people who have this virus are asymptomatic, so they don’t even think they need to get tested,” Professor McMillan said.

A man sitting in an office with a computer showing an illustration of the COVID-19 virus
Queensland virologist Nigel McMillan says 80 per cent of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.(ABC News: Liz Pickering)

“It’s no surprise that people don’t realise they have the virus or have such mild symptoms they think going to work is not a problem, so I don’t blame this person in any way.

“It’s quite surprising in the case of the young ladies from Logan that they were out in the community for eight days and we saw limited transmission of the virus — that has not been the case in Victoria.”

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has said it could take up to a week for genome testing results to determine whether the woman got the virus from a known cluster or an unknown source.

Professor McMillan said genome testing was “pretty advanced technology”.

“It takes that long [a week] to process the sample and get the sequence out,” he said.

“The genome testing is a more forensic detective tool that Victoria has used to track back their current outbreak to a couple of incidents in a quarantine hotel.”

He said sequencing the genome of the virus delivered a fingerprint that could be tracked back to a primary case.

“We have not done much genomic testing in Queensland before, but in Victoria, it has been an important tool to trace their outbreaks to hotel quarantine breaches.”