Health authorities are scrambling to find out how a 30-year-old central Queensland man became infected with Covid-19 in the weeks before he died, and a local politician has called for an investigation into the trip an infected nurse made to the man’s hometown.
Nathan Turner – Australia’s youngest coronavirus fatality – was found dead by his partner in their home at Blackwater, near Emerald.
It is understood he hadn’t left the inland coalmining town since February.
The Queensland health minister, Steven Miles, has not ruled out a link between Turner and a Rockhampton aged care nurse, who had travelled to Blackwater to watch the sun set before testing positive for coronavirus earlier in May.
The same nurse has been linked to the lockdown of a Rockhampton aged care centre after she continued to go to work while sick and awaiting her coronavirus test result.
Miles said the nurse went on a 400km round trip to Blackwater to watch the sun go down.
Health officials are trying to get back in touch with her after news of Turner’s death to ask more questions.
“It’s possible that there is some kind of connection there, or it could just be a coincidence. That’s what our investigators are working on,” Miles told ABC radio on Thursday.
“Those dates don’t really line up with when he got sick. It is a bit of a mystery and it could just be a coincidence.”
He said Blackwater residents weren’t told of the nurse’s visit because it was deemed low risk.
“To my knowledge, she drove there, watched the sunset, and drove back – didn’t leave her car.”
But the MP for Keppel, Brittany Lauga, said she wants more investigation into the nurse’s trip to the town.
“If she did travel to Blackwater and didn’t get out of the car or have contact with anyone, then I can see why a public health warning wasn’t issued sooner. But I can’t see why anyone in their right minds would travel that far and not get out of the car to go to the bathroom or refuel,” she said.
The round trip from Rockhampton to Blackwater is more than four hours.
Lauga said the news that the nurse had visited Blackwater had caused significant fear and ramped up the “witch-hunt” for the woman on social media.
“I had people ringing me telling me we should release her address. People were spreading false information,” she said.
“There was one post saying that her kids went to this certain school and the school should be in lockdown, with parents getting worried. That didn’t prove to be true at all, but posts can spread like wildfire … People need to understand the importance of privacy.”
Turner had a complicated medical history, and it’s understood he had not worked since November due to a workplace injury. He was not tested for Covid-19 before his death .
It remains unclear if Covid-19 was the actual cause of death, and there have been questions surrounding a second postmortem test, which came back negative.
Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said this negative test was invalid.
“It was done … after the gentleman had died, and it was contaminated with quite a bit of blood, so, therefore, it wasn’t an effective test,” she said. “There was a test done [before] which is a very sensitive test, and it came back positive. So I believe it was a positive.”
However, Lauga said there is distrust in Blackwater due to a false positive in the community a month ago.
“We had a false positive in Blackwater before; it was a miner and four days later he has tested again and it was negative. It causes a lot of fear because all of the mining operations weren’t sure what to do. So people are suspicious now,” she said.
Turner’s partner has been tested and is in isolation but has not been admitted to hospital. It’s understood they had become engaged towards the end of last year. “From what I’ve heard his partner loved him dearly,” Lauga said.
The police and ambulance officers who attended the scene are also now in quarantine.
Authorities said a public health alert will be issued if contract-tracing efforts identify any risk to the broader community.
A fever clinic will be opened at the Blackwater Rodeo Grounds from 8am on Thursday, and residents are urged to get tested.
So far 20 close contacts have been identified and 18 have returned negative tests.
A team of public health experts and additional contact tracing resources have also been deployed from Brisbane to Blackwater.