Nelson Bay doctor, Raymond Terrace pharmacist plea to Port Stephens residents to COVID-19 advice

CONCERNED: Nelson Bay Plaza GP Fiona O'Connell is urging residents to stay indoors to help stop the spread of COVID-19, which takes days to show symptoms.

CONCERNED: Nelson Bay Plaza GP Fiona O'Connell is urging residents to stay indoors to help stop the spread of COVID-19, which takes days to show symptoms.

It has been 100 years since a pandemic has caused as much concern and fear among Australians, and altered daily lives, as COVID-19 has done in recent weeks.

The community of Port Stephens is not immune, in fact residents are being told, now more than ever, to heed the health and government warnings - good hygiene, social distancing, no travel - or face further repercussions.

Fortunately, there is hope, as so poignantly pointed out in a Facebook post by Nelson Bay GP and mother-of-two Fiona O'Connell, which has been lauded by many in the community for its straightforward, yet simple, messaging.

She implores people to stay at home, look after each other and be kind.

"I am scared. I see the cafes full and children meeting up for playdates. I see people out and about and going on as usual. I see holidaymakers flooding the Bay. I see people crowding into shops and hugging and kissing," Dr O'Connell said.

"It takes 2-10 days between being infected to perhaps getting symptoms. Up to 85 per cent of you may get sick, be in bed with a cough and aches and fever but luckily may not go to the hospital. The rest may not be so lucky.

"Some of us will become breathless and not be able to talk. Some of us will need oxygen and intensive support in the hospital. These are moderate cases. Some of us will need severe support of the Intensive Care Unit, such as ventilation. Some of us will be in the hospital for weeks and some of us might die.

"Our ICU beds are beginning to get busy. Remember what happened with toilet paper? Well, imagine this is medical beds and ICU. They will be filling up with people sick from COVID-19. This means that there may not be enough beds for all of us to go round or enough staff to work in them. They will be overflowing into other hospital wards and areas. Our local specialist hospital is an hour away. There is one ambulance crew locally overnight.

"The virus needs someone to spread to. If we distance ourselves and stay home, it can't spread. It can't jump through walls. It spreads by aerosol droplets and when we touch each other. It will stop spreading to our friends and family if you stay home and wash your hands."

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Raymond Terrace pharmacist Ross Cairns, from Rachel Mulley's Chemmart Pharmacy.

Raymond Terrace pharmacist Ross Cairns, from Rachel Mulley's Chemmart Pharmacy.

Experienced Raymond Terrace pharmacist Ross Cairns, from Rachel Mulley's Chemmart Pharmacy, echoed Dr O'Connell's concerns about residents not heeding advice in regard self-isolation and social distancing, particularly those identified as most vulnerable should they be infected with the virus.

"I've personally been telling our elderly customers that I think are in the high risk category, those 70 and above, that I really don't think they should be out and about at the moment," he said.

"I think they should be trying to keep themselves at home as much as possible, avoid being anywhere that there's a queue, avoid coming into the pharmacy.

"I am happy to deliver their medication to them. We need to try and make sure that they don't get exposed. Because their only real defence against the virus at the moment is to try and minimise exposure.

"I'm having lots of conversations with people who are saying 'I didn't realise it was that bad'. I am trying to impress upon them that it's almost too late once they know they do have the virus, because of how long it takes to show symptoms.

"Everyone's kind of treating this like there's an army marching on the city, that they'll pop out and get everything they need before it gets here. They don't realise that it's already here."

Like Mr Cairns, who encouraged vulnerable customers to call the pharmacy for help or advice, Dr O'Connell asks people who get sick to ring a medical centre first.

"Most of the GPs in the Bay are happy to speak on the phone," she said. "Please stay home if you can and ring.

"We are trying to keep people from coming out unnecessarily and keep our waiting rooms clear. If you get sick from a runny nose, or cough or fever please stay home and ring us for advice. Most of us will simply have a common cold or flu and be absolutely fine.

"Don't ask us to test for you for COVID-19. We can't unless you fit the criteria (which is changing daily). We can't clear you to go back to work. You shouldn't be at work if you are sick. The other way you can get advice is via the helpline number on 1800 020 080 or you can go to healthdirect.gov.au or patientinfo.org.au."

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