MARY G: Hello everybody, it's me Mary G mind you, and you wouldn't believe but I’m talking to the first female mayor of Cherbourg mind you. Elvie Sandow is the Mayor of Cherbourg Shire Council. The Queensland community of Cherbourg was hit by a COVID outbreak in January this year. The community response to limiting the spread of the virus has led to other communities seeking advice from the council as to how best to respond to an outbreak. I'm joined now by Mayor Elvie Sandow to share the experience of a community to the threat of COVID. Hello, darling.
ELVIE SANDOW: Hello, how are you
MARY G: I'm good. Can you tell us a little bit about Cherbourg? How many residents and where it's located?
ELVIE SANDOW: We're located three hours southeast Queensland. We're three hours from Brisbane. We’re the closest Aboriginal community to Brisbane and yeah, population it goes up and down. 1600, I think it is at the moment, but it goes up and down. Yeah. Because you know our mob, they move around.
MARY G: And and before we hear about the January outbreak, where are you at today with the number of cases of COVID in the community?
ELVIE SANDOW: Well, I haven't been updated because I've actually been on the road for two weeks. I was in Goodiwndi last week, I'm actually up in Cairns now. So, I haven't got much of an update. At the moment. Sorry. Yeah. But I know, from talking to some of my mob from home, there was a bit of a spike. I know there was about 80 cases, the last time I heard, and it sort of goes up and down. And we sort of expected that because winter is just around the corner.
MARY G: Must be scary times.
ELVIE SANDOW: I think I think January was more scarier than now because, you know, we did we were learning to live with COVID now because we know it's not going away anywhere.
MARY G: And that's a good thing about knowing what to expect, you know.
ELVIE SANDOW: Exactly, yeah. And you know, I think our priority at the moment is to try and encourage more children to be vaccinated.
MARY G: That's the key. Yep, protect the kids as well. And Queensland was free of COVID-19 for a very long time. What have you done as a council and community to prepare for an outbreak?
ELVIE SANDOW: Well, I think our key points was to get that message out there, education, you know, to our people, and to prepare them and also to prepare our elders too. And our little gundoos, in saying that too, yeah.
MARY G: Yeah, well, that's the most important thing. And who was involved in the planning?
ELVIE SANDOW: Was my Council, my CEO, and also Darling Downs Health I take, I take my hat off to them guys. I think if it wasn't for them, guys, you know, Risha Lacey, Anna Morford. If it wasn't for them, Dr. Katie [inaudible] If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be where we are today.
MARY G: Fantastic. It's a community thing, isn't it?
ELVIE SANDOW: It is a community thing. You know, if, if you want something to happen, happen, you have to be there to make it happen. You've got to do it yourself ay then you know that it's going to be done.
MARY G: Yeah, that's true. And what was the take up rate of COVID-19 vaccination last year? And were people supportive?
ELVIE SANDOW: Oh, not at first, you know, we still got some anti vax people in our community. But a majority of people started to come around. Because of the, you know, I think the education that we got out there, and, you know, we got the doctor to come and actually talk to ‘em one on one and explain things and answer their questions. You know, because a lot of our mob have chronic illnesses, and, you know, they just didn't want another illness added added to their sickness, you know?
MARY G: Yeah. And what are the current vaccination rates now be?
ELVIE SANDOW: Oh well, our rates are very high eh? Our vaccine rates it’s up high, which is really good. You know we got a bit frustrated because our mob done change their address through Medicare and stuff, so, you know, I believe a lot, a lot of people they are vaccinated because, you know, we haven't had much been hospitalized, which is a good thing.
MARY G: Fantastic. And I look at your stats there, in Cherbourg. As we speak, the latest stats is from 23rd of April, 24th, 25th. You got about 261 cases.
ELVIE SANDOW: We sort of expected that it was going to go up and and you know, the health profession said: you know, you sort of got to prepare, because winters around the corner and it's flu, it is flu time, flu season so yeah we sort of expected and, and a lot of our mob know what to do now, which is which is a good thing.
MARY G: Now. Elvie you're the first female Mayor of Cherbourg. Can you touch base on how yourself and other women have been supporting the community over the past two years?
ELVIE SANDOW: Yeah, well, there's another, you know, I am the very first female Mayor ever, you know, a lot of people say to me, that's a big thing, I don’t let my head get too big because I think I've got a job to do. And l get a lot of support from many of my women and within my community. Yeah.
MARY G: And of all the things that your community did, what has the most impact on limiting transmission of the virus?
ELVIE SANDOW: Well, I think it's just getting out there and giving them giving them that education and letting them know, and just communicating with them on a very, very daily basis, you know?
MARY G: And what, what sort of impacts has COVID had on individuals and families in Cherbourg? Do you know anyone personally affected?
ELVIE SANDOW: It has affected a lot of families, mentally, physically, you know, it is affected their mental states, too. So, you know, we've got that wraparound support, and we still have that wraparound support for our mob,
MARY G: And how did they deal with it?
ELVIE SANDOW: I think they dealt with it in their own way. And then just even getting there talking to one another, and just leaning on one another for that support, you know?
MARY G: And what else did you do to keep more vulnerable people safe?
ELVIE SANDOW: we just provided what we can for our people, whether it was food, medication, any sort of help, so that our people didn't have to really stress and worry.
MARY G: Fantastic. And COVID is not going to go away, are new measures being adopted to protect the community against another wave of COVID, in the future?
ELVIE SANDOW: Yeah, yeah, we've got, we've got to put some measures in place. I think, you know, I really think that people know what they got to do. You know, we've been down that track before. And, you know, our community knows COVID is not going anywhere. And we just got to live with it, eh?
MARY G: And how does the community feel about the ongoing vaccination program now?
ELVIE SANDOW: I think they're very supportive of it now. It's just that we've got, you know, it’s very slow with the children. But I believe we'll get there one day. Yeah.
MARY G: Yes. It's just about the messaging, isn't it?
ELVIE SANDOW: Yes. Just about the messaging. And, you know, getting the family to be engaged.
MARY G: And finally, you must feel very proud of the way Cherbourg pulled together. What advice can you give to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who might be facing the same challenges and listening to this interview?
ELVIE SANDOW: Oh, just, you know, my advice is just communicate. Just communicate, be honest, and just be there when, when they want help, and always offer that support, yeah.
MARY G: Yeah, fantastic. Is anything else you'd like to add my dear?
ELVIE SANDOW: No, you know, I'm hoping, you know, with this second spike, that we can get over it and move on, and, you know, get back to our normal lives. Because, you know, we've put up with COVID for the last two years. And you know, what a time to come in as new Council. And the first thing you have to deal with is a worldwide pandemic. So, you know, someone said to me, if you can get over that, you can get over anything,
MARY G: And that's great words coming from you, my dear. (Yep). Elvie Sandow Mayor of the Cherbourg Shire Council. Mind you. Thank you very much, my dear. And stay well and stay safe.
MARY G: Thank you. Bye.
ELVIE SANDOW: Bye.
Note: The National Coronavirus Helpline and Easy Vaccine Access service are no longer in service.
For information about COVID-19 support services and resources including information on booking a vaccination, COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and other COVID-19 services, please visit healthdirect.org.au/covid.