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SA Health gears up for the looming rise in COVID-19 patients

SA Health gears up for the looming rise in COVID-19 patients

Using facilities outside the metropolitan area for coronavirus patients and rapidly training former ICU workers so they can swing back into action are forming part of SA’s crisis plans.

However, in an exclusive interview with The Advertiser Chief Public Health Officer Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier said cramming beds dormitory-style into existing wards or building a makeshift new hospital in a matter of weeks — as seen in China — are not on the drawing board.

Other moves underway as authorities brace for a rising number of patients include:

UPSKILLING hospital workers who previously worked in critical care and intensive care units so they can be redeployed back as needed, as patient numbers swell and health workers fall ill;

TRAINING occupational health and safety nurses to take over from SA Ambulance paramedics stationed at Adelaide Airport on standby for passengers falling ill while in flight;

FOR the first time allowing pharmacists to vaccinate children aged 10 and older against the flu, as part of an immunisation push when the vaccine is available in early April to guard against a looming “perfect storm” of flu and coronavirus patients flooding hospitals;

ESTABLISHING “cohort” clinics in hospitals so people arriving with the virus bypass emergency departments and are kept isolated from other patients.

SA Health Chief Public Health Officer Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier.

Dr Spurrier put the situation into context in an exclusive interview with The Advertiser where she urged the public to be “alert not alarmed” and take sensible hygiene precautions.

These include washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if sick, having a GP review if you have a chronic illness and having people aged over 65 have the pneumococcal vaccine.

However she said there is “absolutely no need” to wear masks in public and urged people to continue to enjoy their usual lifestyle of going to sports, out to dinner and to the Fringe and other events.

“I took my husband and two young lads to Queen this week and had a great time,” she said.

“There is no reason to be stopping these public events, we have the Fringe, just had the Superloop 500, people should be enjoying these events.

“We have only had the three cases in South Australia and we are doing extensive testing and would be reporting any positive cases — at the moment the weather is nice so get out and go to these things.”

Dr Spurrier emphasised Australia is still in the containment phase allowing preparation for an expected wider outbreak, which includes her joining a daily teleconference with national authorities.

“We are trying to have COVID-19 come onto Australia in a very gradual way — of course if it came in very quickly as we have seen in Northern Italy it could quickly overwhelm health services,” she said.

“Not everyone may need hospitalisation, our experience in Australia is that people have not got all that ill so there will be lots of people who can manage at home and we are looking at other models of out of hospital care.”

Asked where patients would be housed if more arrived at hospitals than available beds, Dr Spurrier ruled out dormitory-style wards saying it is important to maintain clinical standards.

“We are looking at other facilities outside our metropolitan hospitals and working through what would and would not be appropriate,” she said.

“We are part way through the planning stage so it is a little premature to discuss it now.

“I guess we can say we are not looking at building a new hospital in two weeks, that’s off the cards.”

She noted any patient in SA swabbed by a doctor for a respiratory problem is automatically tested by SDA Pathology for the virus, giving a valuable early alert for the disease.

South Australia has had only three confirmed coronavirus cases — a woman, 24, is in a stable condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital with mild symptoms after leaving cruise ship Diamond Princess.

A Chinese couple who had the disease have since recovered. The Advertiser understands they came from Hubei province and had medical qualifications but Dr Spurrier declined to discuss their background.

She confirmed SAPOL had managed to track their movements in Adelaide by using their mobile phones and several individuals had been contacted for health checks, however there was no need for a public alert.

She emphasised that unlike a disease like measles, where an aerosol of infectious bugs can linger after a person has left the room, COVID-19 is spread by droplets and significant close contact is needed.