Tasmania: COVID Exposure Sites Facebook moderators talk importance of popular group

When Tasmanian woman Belinda Pelly and City of Launceston councillor Tim Walker started the Tasmania: Community Known Covid Exposure Sites page it was simply to "fill an information void" of missing exposure sites.

The page, started two weeks ago when the government stopped listing all exposure sites, now has just shy of 50,000 members and receives request for about 150 posts each day.

HELPING OUT: City of Launceston councillor Tim Walker with the COVID assistance facebook page he and a friend started. Picture: Phillip Biggs

HELPING OUT: City of Launceston councillor Tim Walker with the COVID assistance facebook page he and a friend started. Picture: Phillip Biggs

Typically, and originally, those posts informed group members about COVID exposure sites in the state, but the group has since passed into different phases and incarnations to become a growing and shifting community aimed at helping others.

After originally filling that void of exposure sites, the group has since become awash with posts from members of the public alerting their community to where they can get rapid antigen tests from, how long the line for those tests might be, or where its easy and quick to get N95 masks.

Recently, group member and recently graduated mechatronics engineer Jordan Peters took the initiative to build a program to aggregate all of the exposure site.

Group member and program developer Jordan Peters. Picture: Supplied

Group member and program developer Jordan Peters. Picture: Supplied

Mr Peters, 23 and from Launceston, said he set up the program, which posts exposure sites in an online document, because he saw friends posting their check in information and thought it seemed "time consuming to constantly read through all the screenshots just in case you were at one of the sites".

"I thought if there was a single place with all the data together it would be a lot easier for everyone," he said.

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Mr Peters said he spent about two to three hours building the program, but had spent at least six hours in total getting it to the point where it automatically updates after group members posted their photo.

A screenshot of the resulting spreadsheet produced by Mr Peters's program.

A screenshot of the resulting spreadsheet produced by Mr Peters's program.

His voluntary hours of work proved to be typical of group members, in particular those who started the page.

Ms Pelly said she and other moderators, including Boomer Bay woman Jeddah Barwick, spent every hour of the day making sure the right information was shared in a time critical way.

There had even been two moderators recruited from overseas to cover moderation during hours most Tasmanians would be asleep.

The volunteer run page, according to Ms Barwick and Cr Wilson, was an example of people from the island state banding together in a time of "crisis".

Cr Wilson said that togetherness had become typical for Northern Tasmanians.

"People there want to express care for fellow Tasmanians, and they've found an avenue to do it," he said.

We shouldn't be surprised because on this island, when there's a crisis, we come together.

Councillor and page moderator Tim Walker

"Tasmania is the most regionalised state and the more you get into the regions the more people are willing to help out and show a bit of kindness."

Examples from the page have emerged where elderly people have sought information about how to remain safe, where they can get tested, or when they have not been able to secure a RAT. As a result of them sharing their information, they had tests donated to them.

Another scenario that played out in the group was a carer for someone going through chemotherapy who was unable to source N95 masks.

Cr Wilson said the examples highlighted the importance of the group, and why it was continuing to grow as COVID cases around the state also grew.

"People do respond to it, and people are craving [information]," he said.

"This page has created a space where people do feel safe and they will actually ask for help. I don't think people are panicking, I think people just want the information so they can make their decisions."

Ms Barwick said the page had offered Tasmanians who felt helpless, at a time when their state was being pilfered by COVID cases, the chance to feel useful. "Especially in a crisis, everyone can do something to help, they just need to feel empowered to do so and supported to work together," she said.

She said community knowledge had proved to be where members had found their place to be helpful.

There will always be gaps in what large services can achieve, compared to local knowledge and community knowledge.

Page moderator Jeddah Barwick

"Being able to connect people, support local businesses, be more efficient in our efforts to slow the spread is always valuable - such as letting people know their nearest testing point to reduce unnecessary travel and limit instances of potential cross community transmissions."

Cr Walker said if even one person had come to the page looking for help, for instance by sourcing a RAT, and they had found it, the countless hours of volunteer work to keep the page running had been worthwhile.

This story How an online group became a 'safe space' for those fearing COVID first appeared on The Examiner.