Dear Bellingen Shire
29 December 2020.
It feels like de ja vu.
We are holding our breath, awaiting the outcome of the outbreak, tracing, and restriction response, and the passage of a 14 days incubation period.
On the upside, we have not been made aware of any cases yet in the Mid North Coast Health District. Certainly up to Christmas Eve we have had none in our local Bellingen Shire clinic. Many of the people turning up were folk from North Sydney, and we applaud them for coming forward to get tested. The only positives we have had are for Rhinovirus – a version of the common cold – and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), which can cause a mild cold in adults but a nasty lung infection in babies. So there is still good reason to reconsider allowing anyone with a snotty nose to kiss your baby.
The State government has promoted very high confidence in the tracing system, and the ability to manage a soft shut down – in the face of the super spreading events of Christmas, Boxing day sales, and New Year’s Eve. Time for fingers, and eyes, and toes, and legs, and any other appendage (in the privacy of your own home) to be crossed.
There are complex levels of restrictions for the Greater Sydney area and the Northern beaches – Please go to NSW Health Website to get the detail if it fits you or someone staying with you. There are layers.
A few curious statistics that help maintain a perspective, and help explain why I am back to wearing a mask in town:
3 sewerage works reporting traces of the virus – Warriewood, Hornsby and Brooklyn.
56 venues across North AND SOUTH Sydney listed as contaminated. If you attended these since mid December you are considered a close contact and need to be in quarantine (ie 14 days of no contact and stay in home /accommodation, having tested immediately and at the end). Look up the NSW Health site.
48 public transport routes across Sydney, on certain days, are considered close contacts. Again, you need to look up on the Website if you or any companion has been in Sydney since the middle of December.
The Health Department has been asking for increased testing – even if not symptomatic – in Northern Beaches and Penrith.
The number of tests is actually going down, suddenly. One might theorise that people are not wanting to have a test, then be told to quarantine for New Year’s Eve.
To be honest I am very relieved they have at least cancelled some of the gatherings for the fireworks. There was to be a large gathering in privileged positions for frontline workers – to honour them. This has been cancelled. What a huge relief. The thought of a super-spreading event amongst large chunks of Sydney’s health work force is too outrageous to comprehend.
A recommendation for Aged Care Facilities to restrict visitors seems caught in intergovernmental miscommunication. Currently the local RACFs were ordered to reopen and accept visitors, with residents going out to mix in the community for Christmas. They have tried so hard to protect their residents and I know they have rearranged staffing and kept up surveillance diligently. Lets hope this has not been in vain. If they restrict visitors again please be patient. We have seen what happens if the virus gets into an aged care setting.
This morning there was a news item quoting the mayor of the Northern Beaches Council stating that his citizens are getting very fatigued by being shutdown (relatively).
After a week. After watching Melbourne endure it for 6 months!
I hope we are a little more thoughtful if the same occurs here. The sad irony is that report ran just after the simple statistic that over 1 in 1000 residents of the USA have died this year from just Covid19, the hospitals in California (a population of nearly 40 Million with some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world) have been overwhelmed. They have no ICU spaces left. They are contemplating asking if any Australian Nurses can go over and offer relief.
And similarly poor Sweden – population similar to NSW at about 10million- has now had over 8000 succumb. It is vital to keep all this in perspective when we feel like relaxing surveillance on Covid19, or have a family member claiming it’s all a conspiracy – and writing that on the walls of our Bellingen medical practices.
So the talk in the news is about the vaccines and whether we should get a vaccine program up and running in Australia sooner than March. The medical wisdom is that emergency approval of a new vaccine is justified in jurisdictions facing a massive and critical epidemic. We are not. At least not yet. I am very much with the Federal Health Department on that one. We are so lucky to see how those famous vaccines pan out, and if there are any lumpy spots in them to avoid.
Now, details of local testing access for the Bellinger Shire over the Holiday period. We initially decided to take a 2-week break. Staff needed a breather after going flat out all year. Then Northern beaches happened and we stayed open last week.
We will not have a clinic this week in Bellingen (28/12-1/1). The Testing clinic at Watson St will reopen on 4thJanuary – initially 9-930, weekdays.
The State Health clinics have been very busy and will be open at Coffs Harbour Hospital, Macksville, and Woolgoolga (some days). Please check the NSW Health Websites for the opening times.
In case anybody needed reminding, we set up the clinic in March – the first in rural Australia- while governments were still vacillating on a response. It came about as a collaboration of local GPs, our staff and supporters. It is funded privately through Medicare only, and has been supported by the Bellingen Shire, Bellorana, Bare Foot Funerals, the Old Butter Factory Café, the Youth Hub, and a hell of a lot of good will. The Area Health Service graciously reimbursed us later for capital expenditure.
While your experience is just a wait in line then a quick check and swab, there is a hell of a lot of background management needed to keep your experience quick and slick. I know my practice manager has been working nearly 7 days a week most of this year. This may be so in most businesses, but especially in health care. It is easy for doctors and nurses to be in the limelight, but we can only operate when those supports are there. So, I would like to put a shout out for the season’s good will to the medical practice Managers, the Staff, as well as Hospital cleaning staff and maintainers. It may seem funny but a hospital can run to some extent without a doctor. It cannot function without cleaners. If you know any of these faceless workers – please celebrate them.
We will see you next year, hopefully no longer with everything painfully crossed, and updates on the progress of vaccines, and maybe other health topics.
Please be careful. Masks help. I just wish we could be confident that the NSW strategy of only partial restrictions has been the right call. I would love to be proved wrong. We will need to breathe again soon. Don’t know how clear the air will be.
Please remember to check any detail with your own thoughtful GP, who is likely also holding their breath and taking a breather, to regather strength for a possible rush. Yes, that is a tortured metaphor, C’est la vie!
Dr Trevor Cheney