Professor Margaret Hellard AM speaks to Ross and Russel on 3AW about the latest Optimise Study report. Full story: https://burnet.edu.au/news/1479_study…
Victorians are modifying their behaviour in response to changing COVID-19 restrictions, but many are not having a COVID-19 test even when they have symptoms, new Burnet-led research has found. The Optimise Study, a research partnership led by Burnet Institute and Doherty Institute has followed a group of over 570 participants from key groups in Victoria since mid-2020.
The latest findings show participants were quick to change their behaviour in response to the May-June 2021 circuit-breaker lockdown by reducing social contacts and gatherings, and practising social distancing. Optimise Study Co-Lead, Burnet Institute Deputy Director, Professor Margaret Hellard AM, said testing rates among participants who reported COVID-like symptoms also increased during this time, but a majority who reported symptoms did not get a test.
“In April, just over one-in-six participants who had symptoms got a test. By June this increased to one-in-three. This is encouraging, but it means that two-in-three people who had symptoms did not get a test. This is an issue as testing is critical to stopping outbreaks of COVID-19,” she said. Barriers to testing reported by study participants included long wait times at testing sites and the unavailability of walk-in (as opposed to drive-through) sites.
“We also heard participants describe negative economic and social consequences of a positive test such as the associated stigma, and not being able to work,” Professor Hellard said. “It’s crucial that we break down these barriers to testing and clearly communicate information in multiple languages that allays fears of negative consequences to testing and isolating.”
Study participants said daily media conferences from political leaders and health officers helped to keep the importance of getting tested – even with the slightest symptoms – front of mind. One participant, who had a runny nose, recounted how they called their manager to say they were going to get a test and couldn’t work, because “Dan [Andrews] told me so.”
Professor Hellard said new models of testing, such as rapid testing, should be explored to reduce wait times for tests and results to circumvent existing barriers. “Until we have a sufficient proportion of the population vaccinated and restrictions can ease, it’s essential that we make it easier for people to get a COVID-19 test. It’s our only way to find cases and crush outbreaks, before the virus spreads in the community and we have to impose lockdowns. It’s important to explore the feasibility and benefit of rapid tests to increase testing uptake in people with symptoms,”
Professor Hellard said. Burnet Institute is an Australian, unaligned, not-for-profit, independent organisation that links medical research with practical action to help solve devastating health problems. This sets us apart from other organisations. Find out more at https://burnet.edu.au/