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Sydney optometrist listed as COVID exposure site concerned about reputational damage

An optometrist whose practice was listed as an exposure site for the recent community COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney is now counting the cost of an eight-day business closure and speculative media reporting she fears has undermined public confidence in her services.

Ms Narelle Hine is the principal optometrist of HineSight Optometrist, located in the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney’s CBD. It has been closed since last Wednesday afternoon (5 April) after authorities learned an infected man, in his 50s, visited the practice between midday and 1pm on Friday 30 April 2021.

Narelle Hine.

Hine, who is now isolating at home, said she could only estimate at the lost income from the business’s closure. This was in addition to the steep cost of a mandatory COVID deep clean of the workspace.

“My learning is that – under current NSW Health protocols – in the event of close COVID-19 contact in the practice, the workspace will close for some period for deep cleaning,” she said.

“The optometrist, dispenser and all attending staff working at that time will all need to undergo two weeks isolation, regardless of whether they tested negative for COVID-19, diligently swabbed surfaces and instruments with 70% alcohol, religiously wore masks or cleaned every frame tried.”

However, Hine said there is a strong case for continuing “laborious COVID cleaning protocols”.

“It is very possible that our protocols may indeed have protected our team and other patients entering our practice that day because we all tested negative to COVID-19. Perhaps that poor man and his wife were not actually contagious at the time they visited our practice? We may never know the answer to what saved us with certainty.”

Hine said she’ll also most likely have to bear the ongoing cost of what she called poorly researched, speculative media reporting.

Because her business is located near a Sydney hotel quarantine facility, there have been suggestions the man could have caught the virus at her practice.

She said no mention was made of her practice team all testing negative to COVID-19: “So who won’t think twice about visiting our practice in the near future?”

Deakin University’s chair of epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett has since spoken publicly stating it was “unlikely” the man became infected at the practice because health officials believed he was already infectious when he visited.

Bennett also told news.com.au the quarantine hotel and optometrist used different entrances. Genomic sequencing has since linked the man’s infection to a traveller from the US who was quarantining at the Park Royal Hotel in Darling Harbour, but authorities are still trying to find the missing link between the traveller and the Sydney man.

After adhering to strict COVID protocols throughout the pandemic, Hine is concerned the media reports will harm public confidence in her services in the months to come.

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