Dear Bellingen Shire
First the good news this week. After 10s of thousands of people out in the street in indignation and some physical interaction, a long weekend with many people breaking out and coming to non urban areas to refresh themselves, including our little bubble towns – the new cases of Covid 19 in our towns, shire, region now add up to 0! Still! And again, none in the region since April.
This is a huge relief. Just as like after Easter, we should be wary since the incubation period is up to 14 days. So the impact of the last 2 weekends will not be clear until next week. It has been reported that only 1 person so far who attended the rallies has tested positive (in the capital).
NSW did have 9 cases since yesterday but 8 of those were returning travellers. Yes, it may seem surprising that there are still hundreds of Aussies trying desperately to get home. They are still coming into Sydney airport. If one of those is your family member then at least you know they are being monitored carefully and will be able to quickly get the best care if needed. Our resources have mostly caught up.
So, this has led to questions this week as to whether we should still advise vulnerable people to practice distancing despite the relaxations. The answer is absolutely Yes. The danger is not gone, just boxed up.
There is a nice concept that has been introduced in the UK guidelines (and jeez they have seen their more than enough to know what they are talking about) called “Shielding”. Many folk , hopefully most , who recognise that they are high risk will still be very cautious. But younger family members who feel less vulnerable may be relaxed and feel almost freely that the danger has passed.
This concept of “shielding” is a great discussion point for families now.
Who in your extended family is vulnerable? How can you monitor the contacts of all your family so that an imaginary dome is maintained around someone at risk? This may start with ensuring every vehicle in your extended family has hand wash available. Check that elderly relatives are still getting groceries easily, but cleaned. Fill up their hand wash bottles. You could attach a hand wash holder on the front door jam.
Most importantly talking frequently with children about how not to carry germs to a family member. It is like an invisible paint that takes a week to dry and become obvious – so today, where did your painted hands land?
The mental health of people being isolated is flagged of great concern. We need you to keep looking out for anyone in your street or region that you know is forced to be isolated. However be a bit careful about jumping to conclusions. I have had a number of folk in the last week who have secretly expressed their relief at the slower pace of the world, and enjoyed their time of peace and relative isolation. We are still social animals and this will change, but our elders can still offer lessons in good living
More happiness – virtually no Flu in our shire. I mentioned it last week with stunning figures of >35,000cases of flu this time last year and only 208 this year. Even doctors in online discussions were sceptical, but this is truly our local experience. With all GP practices and hospitals in the shire asking people with coughs to get swabbed, we have a great snap shot. We have not seen influenza since before the shut down. We are getting a big run of a common winter cold called Rhinovirus. It is likely kids are sharing it at school and bringing it home as normal. But this year we are all watching out for coughs and sneezes with super attention.
Now we need patience with each other again. Anyone with respiratory symptoms is advised to isolate again until the swab result is negative for Covid19. And if that person is your service provider, the appointment you have waited 3 months for suddenly may be put off for yet another few days. This is unfortunate. This is the new reality. This is what we will need to do for the next year, or even 2. We need to get used to it. It means a new pace of operating our businesses. The alternative is writ large in enough international news bulletins. This is probably the only bad news for our Shire.
Another joyful bit of news. We had been getting worried about the return of outbreaks of measles. Measles is more infectious than Covid19, though less lethal. Still it kills outright in at least 1:700 infections (mostly children) and causes uncommon but horrible brain diseases. You probably heard of the catastrophe emerging in Samoa last year. Australia was declared measles free in 2014, till it snuck back. But the health dept is reporting the outbreaks disappearing! 285 cases in 2019 Vs 25 in the first half of this year – and they were all before the lockdown.
The medical newspapers and the Royal Australian College of GPs are raising concerns about requests for clearance certificates for workers. This has been addressed before but needs reminding that doctors cannot give work clearances for someone returning to work after shutdown or possible infections. We can only give a copy of the negative swab results, which only relate to that moment in time. Most folk are advising that if you have a respiratory infection then you should stay away from work or school until at least 24 hours of no symptoms. This is good sense for any infection illness anyway. Unfortunately in our mad- paced world we were starting to forget that reality.
People with respiratory disease or/and diabetes are at high risk > the advice is still to please attend to optimise your treatment. Do not stop steroid inhalers. Don’t miss your regular diabetes checks. Optimal control is your next greatest protection – after good hygiene and distancing.
The Bellingen testing clinic will continue to open Monday to Friday 1300-1400 depending on Demand. If it gets busier then we will start opening longer. Your GP surgeries will all know .
Dr Trevor Cheney
This represents one perspective. Please check with your own GP, in your own region, who knows you and the local conditions.