'Wave' of COVID-19 cases expected in Northern NSW
WHILE more people are now practising social distancing and abiding by other rules related to COVID-19, the local health district boss says the worst is yet to come.
Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones has announced changes to hospital visitation that will come into effect tomorrow.
There will be a limit of one visitor per patient in all hospitals across the district, allowed between 1pm and 6pm, and they can visit for a maximum of one hour, once per day.
We will see more cases
Mr Jones said the LHD was taking a "plan for the worst, hope for the best" approach.
"We need to be prepared … for the biggest impact we might get," he said.
He said modelling suggests the region may see "a wave" of cases "in the next month or two".
"We need to be prepared for that," he said.
"People are starting to look at the numbers across the state and I'm sensing some communities are starting to think it's not as bad as we first through it would be.
"Please do not have any sense of relief.
"The worst is yet to come. We need to be vigilant. If you don't, the community, you and your family will pay a tragic price.
"People need to assume there's a COVID-positive patient next to them.
"Do not be fooled into a sense of calm that your area is not exposed.
"Every area is potentially exposed."
Backpackers can access fever clinic
The LHD has launched a COVID-19 clinic at Byron Central Hospital which is welcoming backpackers who have any symptoms and are concerned.
Backpackers will join high-risk people - those who have been overseas recently or have come into contact with a confirmed case - among those eligible for resting.
The move comes after a number of cases possibly linked to gatherings in Sydney's Bondi area led to a clinic for backpackers there.
"We're asking all backpackers who are concerned to come to Byron Central," Mr Jones said.
"If you are a backpacker ad you have any symptoms and you're concerned please feel free to come to Byron Central Hospital. You'll be directed through the fever clinic.
"There's no charge it's absolutely free of charge.
"It's important that we do the testing for you and for the rest of the community."
Mr Jones said there had been a "marked reduction" in stays at local backpacker
accommodation but they believed there were still some staying in vans within the community.
"At this point in time we've seen a marked reduction in all visitation and particularly amongst backpackers," he said.
"But because backpackers have been identified particularly in the Waverley-Bondi area as a high case load within that group, it think it was important to set up a fever clinic and expand it here at Byron because it's still having backpackers come through it."
If a backpacker tests positive to the virus, Mr Jones said support would be in place for them.
Testing criteria evolves
Aside from the backpacker community, Mr Jones acknowledged there had been an expansion of criteria for people to be tested for COVID-19.
For now, most residents who haven't been overseas or been in contact with a confirmed case should speak to their GP first if they're concerned rather than presenting at a fever clinic.
"We believe that emergency service staff will be included including police, I'm anticipating that change," Mr Jones said.
"It will evolve and change as the need arises.
How health resources are coping
Mr Jones said they were bringing on board "a significant amount" of additional staff.
"In regard to personal protective equipment at this stage NSW is well-equipped … to provide all our clinicians with the PPE they require," he said.
He said he was "very confident" state and national bodies were prepared to ensure that supply continues.
Do we have a cluster?
Mr Jones said the LHD had not identified any clusters of COVID-19 on the North Coast.
"We have a spread across from the Tweed down to Grafton and in between," he said.
"The vast majority of cases identified in Northern NSW are people who acquired it overseas or people who've been in direct contact with a COVID-19 patient."
He said there were just two patients for whom they were still investigating the source of their infection.
What if you're sleeping rough and you're asked to self-isolate?
Mr Jones said the LHD was working with government and non-government social support agencies and local councils to identify hotspots for people experiencing homelessness.
"We're sending in additional support for them," he said.
"There's a lot of support going into that group.
"You only need one (case) and it's going to spread fairly quickly but there's a lot of work going into ensuring the homeless community are protected but also supported for what us going to come for the next few months.'
He said they were channelling clinical services into "known hotspots".
"We need to recognised if we get a positive … asking a homeless person to go isolate is a fairly foolish task," he said.
"So we will be setting up accommodation options for people who are homeless.
"We have a duty of care to ensure not only their safety and protection but the safety of the community around them."
He said they were also looking at accommodation options for healthcare workers who may, in the near future, have "reservations" about going home to their families.
Social distancing message sinking in
Mr Jones said it was "heartening" to see usually-buzzing areas like Byron Bay virtually empty "in the sense that people are taking this isolation and their responsibilities very seriously".
"I've emphasised for several weeks now that the only way this is going to work is if we as individuals, we as communities, take social isolation, social distancing, had hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and keeping 1.5 metres away from each other seriously," he said.
"I'm … proud of the communities I live and work in because they're taking it seriously and that will have a positive effect on reducing the positive cases within our communities and at the end, reduce the number of people who will die as a result of this."
Fewer presentations to emergency departments
A benefit to social distancing, Mr Jones said fewer people had been presenting to hospitals with emergencies.
"In areas such as Grafton we've seen a 20 per cent reduction in gastroenteritis all because of the hand hygiene improvements," he said.
He said this lightening of the load on other services meant more resources for fever clinics.