No cause for alarm

ONE person has been airlifted from the Swan Hill hospital to the Alfred Hospital with a suspected case of COVID-19.
A number of other patients seen by the health service have been told to self-quarantine this week, but Swan Hill District Health (SHDH) chief executive officer Peter Abraham has urged locals to remain calm. 
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said yesterday the number of confirmed cases across the state had reached 27, adding more were likely to emerge.
"This situation is evolving rapidly, and we expect to see more and more cases of COVID-19," Mr Sutton said. 
Mr Abraham told The Guardian at 5pm yesterday no local suspected cases had been confirmed. He added the health service had "taken all the precautions necessary" in their handling of the potential cases. 
Mr Abraham confirmed one person was taken to the Alfred Hospital on Tuesday displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (previously known as the coronavirus). 
The sight of the transfer had alarmed residents who saw medical staff in protective gear while completing the transfer. 
"That case did have some signs and symptoms of infection, and as I said it is better to be cautious than not," Mr Abraham said.
"But it is not the only case we have had.
"That one was heightened because you see ambulances, and you see a lot of people around in hazmat (hazardous material) suits, but we have a number of patients who have presented and are self isolating."
SHDH also issued a statement this week, advising of restricted public access at the facility, with doors from High and Splatt streets direct to ward areas now closed. 
"Public entry to the health service is only via the main entry during the hours of 6.30am – 8.30pm and via the emergency department entry after hours and at all times for people accessing emergency care," the statement said.
"Public access to all non-hospital campus services remains unchanged."
Mr Abraham said patients had begun to present to the health service in the "last week or so", but added they had heeded advice to call ahead to minimise chances of infection. 

"Particularly leading up to more media about the coronavirus, we have had presentations from patients who show symptoms, or who have travelled recently coming into our emergency department," he said.

"We take every precaution, every time there is a presentation.

"It will become more common to see that sort of event, where we do see people with masks and hazmat suits on."

Mr Abraham said the health service had a "couple of suspected cases" present on Tuesday, though only the one patient was transferred

"They are obviously not yet tested for the coronavirus, but we have to take every reasonable step we can take, and that includes suiting up in masks, protective eye wear and gowns," he said.

"Part of our pandemic planning for coronavirus is we have to treat any suspected case as a positive case, even though they haven't been tested."

Mr Abraham said there was currently just one testing laboratory on Melbourne, but the state was working to develop more testing capabilities.

"Our role is to do the nasal swab and send them off to the laboratory," he said.

"We will also ask patients to self-isolate."

While Mr Abraham said the number of people presenting was on the rise, he added it was also the beginning of the flu season.

"Not every person who comes in has coronavirus, but anyone who presents and says 'I have travelled and I may have it', we have to take precautions for," he said.

He said the hospital was working with its neighbouring health services to ensure all are involved in planning and have appropriate measures in place to respond to potential cases.

With services and clinics across the state reporting shortages of protective gear, Mr Abraham said SHDH had completed a stock take of its own supplies and was not facing a shortage "at the moment".

"State-wide, there are other stockpiles in the state that can be accessed if we need," he said.

"Our big concern right now is maintaining protective masks and gear for our dental service....they use a number of masks and we are monitoring supplies to ensure we can continue to provide the service ongoing."

Mr Abraham said the decision to restrict the access points to the hospital were two-fold.

"It's not restricting access to anyone into the hospital, it is closing down the side doors and the rear doors to public access," he said.

"First, there is a security concern, where anyone can access the health service and us not know they are there, and the other is around coronavirus and the flu season.

"Having people walking straight in from a side door, into our ward where we have compromised patients...if the are showing signs or symptoms and are going in without us seeing, it is a risk."

If someone were to test positive for the virus, Mr Abraham said the hospital does have a plan in place.

"Our best care path is for someone to self-isolate at home, if they are well-enough," he said.

"If they are unwell and require hospital care, we are currently setting up four isolation rooms in the health service, in the hospital that allows people to be cared for in isolation.

"If they are extremely unwell and require ventilation services and intensive care, they will need to be transferred to a metropolitan or bigger health service, under the usual precautions we would take, as we would do for anyone else."

While this information can be alarming, Mr Abraham urged the community to remain calm.

"I think it is important that the community not be too alarmed about this," he said.

"We do have processes in place to care for patients if they become unwell.

"What's important for us is we really do need to protect our staff -- our staff are a precious commodity, in the media they're talking about sending nurses and doctors in to help, well, we have as many on the ground as we can have.

"Our staff are extremely competent, they understand the drill, the process that needs to be taken and we have taken all the measures we can possibly take."


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