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Byron Shire
April 15, 2024

Cleaning up after incorrect COVID location blunder

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Byron Massage Clinic was wrongly named as a close contact location in the latest Byron Bay positive COVID case. Photo supplied.

A woman whose business was wrongly named as a close contact exposure location in the latest Byron Bay positive COVID case, says she wants to clear the reputation of her clinic.

Although no business following health protocols can be blamed for the spread of the COVID-19 virus, smoke can often indicate fire, no matter how hard business owners try to allay people’s fears,  and there is also the physical and mental cost of cleaning up with people wrongfully in isolation and unnecessarily separated from their loved ones during what is already a trying lockdown.

Brooke McCleary, the owner of the incorrectly named COVID exposure location, Byron Massage Clinic, says she she wants to be clear that the COVID positive man wasn’t at her business.

‘We have very thorough check-in processes,’ she said. ‘We have an iPad kiosk at the entrance to our business displaying the QR code and information about our processes for screening clients prior to treating them. Our reception is staffed during the day.

‘We also have a really sophisticated booking management system. All of our clients complete detailed intake forms that include up to date information about the public health orders and who we can and cannot treat,’ said Ms McCleary.

‘Our booking system clearly showed appointment times, the treating practitioner and we keep very detailed records for all our clients.

Brooke McCleary is supportive of true exposure local locations. ‘My heart goes out to the local businesses that have had a positive case enter their premises’. Photo supplied.

‘The people in question did not in any way match the details of who we had in the clinic at the times published via NSW Health or for that matter any other day,’ she said. ‘I reviewed our bookings thoroughly and the information published simply did not match our records.’

Ms McCleary said she double checked to make sure they had not missed anything. ‘I called all of our clients personally and asked if they had received a NSW Health notification that they were a close contact – many of our clients on those dates were regulars that we know well.

‘Two people we called had received close contact notifications related to the Woolworths exposure site and were isolating.’

Ms McCleary said she first heard that her business had been named as the COVID close contact location from the internet. ’It was all over social media and on news sites. I was alerted to being listed as a close contact venue first by a colleague and then by friends and clients,’ she said.

‘It was quite overwhelming being put in that position and finding out that way as I had not been contacted by NSW Health, the Lismore Public Health Unit or the Police.’

How did this happen?

‘Obviously it is a stressful and difficult time for everyone,’ said Ms McCleary. ‘I understand that the people in question have not been cooperative with the teams working on contact tracing so it sounds like they are having a really hard time. I did eventually get to speak to both Byron Police and the Lismore Public Health Unit and they confirmed that there had been a miscommunication and we had been mistaken for another business with a very similar name.

‘It feels to me that all of the people working to support the public health response are under a huge amount of pressure to get contact sites out to the public. It is concerning to think that there may not be adequate resources available to the Lismore Public Health Unit at this time.’

Clinic’s booking system clearly showed appointment times, the treating practitioner and very detailed records for all clients. Photo supplied.

Ms McCleary said the mistake has been very negative for her business. ‘Some of the commentary on social media was just appalling. People were posting about how irresponsible it was for us to have treated the people in question based on the false information that was published.

‘It really was a total nightmare. It’s not acceptable for a business owner like myself to be put in a position where I have to defend false information. In terms of brand damage, it is a concern.’

Grateful for the support and caring response

‘I’m grateful for the support and caring response from our regular clients, the community and friends, however it is a concern that the wider community may associate my business with not having adequate COVIDSafe compliance practices in place,’ said Ms McCleary.

‘Like many businesses in Byron we’ve had our revenue decimated by the lock downs as like many businesses in town we rely on tourist clientele to fill the gaps in winter. It is a negative and profound impact on the reputation of the business that we really did not need at this already difficult time.’

Ms McCleary says that since the start of the pandemic, Byron Massage Clinic and the whole team has worked very hard to ensure that they are a COVID safe business.

‘Every time there has been updates to the public health orders we make the required changes to the information on our website, on our booking platform and send text messages to anyone that has a booking that may be affected by public health orders based on where they have travelled from or permanent reside.

‘It has been a huge administrative burden but one that we have been more than happy to carry for the safety and wellbeing of our clients, our team, and the community,’ she said.

Working hard to ensure everyone is screened

‘Our team of practitioners have been working hard to ensure everyone is screened prior to entering the clinic, that masks are being worn as we screen people on arrival, and that we thoroughly clean all surfaces between appointments. As the business owner I have been constantly reiterating that the whole team must maintain exceptionally high standards of COVID compliance.’

Ms McCleary says clients of the business over the period named in the health order were doing the right thing and had put themselves in isolation. ‘All our staff, and the clients treated on the two days listed by NSW Health were considering themselves as close contacts and were following the Health Orders. They were isolating and getting tested.’

Clients at the clinic on reported days extremely concerned and worried

Ms McCleary said many clients of the clinic have made contact to offer support and to express their concern for the welfare of the staff, clients and their families.

‘Clients who had been at the clinic on the reported days were extremely concerned and worried,’ she said. ‘Understandably, they were wanting answers and information which I simply didn’t have as I had not had contact from NSW Health, the Lismore public health unit or the Police prior to the Clinic being listed in the community.’

Ms McCleary said her clinic was removed from the main NSW Health website exposure site list on Thursday evening – 24 hours after being listed as a close contact venue.

‘Unfortunately, there are many, many, media articles that still have us listed. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to correct the public record.

‘The damage control will be ongoing at this stage, I will have a clearer understanding on the direct impact the false report has had once we re-open our doors, when the lock down has been lifted.’

No apology

Ms McCleary says she has not received a formal apology at this time. ‘The Byron Police have been great to deal with and I do have empathy for what the NSW Health and Public Health Unit teams are going through at the moment, but do feel very strongly that all stakeholders need to learn from the mistake that has been made.

‘We have fantastic record keeping, have worked hard to lead by example and it is a shame that NSW Health were not proactive in working with our business in these circumstances as the whole situation could have very easily been avoided.’

Ms McCleary is remaining generously philosophical about the situation. ‘As frustrating and as stressful as this has been, I am feeling grateful that there has been no transmission in the clinic to our staff, clients and the wider community. Public health and safety is most important in our current situation.

‘My heart goes out to the local businesses that have had a positive case enter their premises.

‘I hope the community can get behind them as this is the time when they need it the most. It’s important to leave judgements and speculation behind and support the small businesses that will suffer for no fault of their own.’

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  1. Now if we can just get the assorted ‘one with the universe type’ masseurs to slow their fancy cars down a little bit, to actually drive safe and stop effn speeding, tearing around the shire as they hurry to get to get to work to give their clients “relaxing” massages, that really would be good news! Your mindless driving sets the rest of us on edge!

    Please stop speeding, you know who you are! Drive safely and responsibly and publicly demonstrate your care for the “community” in which you live , thank you.


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