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Long, hard road to zero

A health worker in full personal protective equipment [PPE]. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Low case numbers mask local challenges
‘Far too soon’ to relax

ARTHUR HAWKES
[email protected]

Placed in isolation in a high-tech negative pressure room; visited by no one except a strict rota of nurses in full PPE; awaiting test results that could determine their life. This was the fate of almost 50 patients treated in Wairarapa Hospital over the past three weeks, despite none of them returning positive results for covid-19.

This essential precaution, taken as they awaited their results, demonstrates the strain that health providers have been under, despite low case numbers and lack of fatalities potentially masking the true reality.

From looking at the figures, you might think that Wairarapa’s healthcare services have not been overly affected by the global pandemic, but Wairarapa District Health Board’s chief executive Dale Oliff said this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Right across the healthcare spectrum, we have had to adapt our practice to meet the additional demand of covid-19,” Oliff said.

“Our medical practices and our hospital services have had to implement significant changes, all of which impact on the staff team as well as our patients.

“We’ve had to create a single entry point into the hospital, manned 24/7, and ask everyone coming in screening questions before we can allow access.

“Anybody that is symptomatic is triaged and dealt with separately, in isolation and with PPE gear.

“Even just getting in and out of the PPE takes a considerable amount of time.

“Our patients are also heavily restricted in terms of visitors, and that takes its toll on them. Very unwell people are going without the morale boost of family and friends to pass the time.

“It is a trying time for all, but I am really pleased with how all the staff are coping – and I am including our orderlies, security, cleaners and receptionists in that too.”

Test numbers in Wairarapa are leading the country per head of population.

Wairarapa has also had the highest level of testing in the nation, with 20.7 tests per 1000 population [as at last Tuesday]. Justine Thorpe, Deputy CEO of Tu Ora Compass Health, outlined this.

“Our covid-19 testing clinics are testing more cases here than anywhere else, because we have been working to a broad case definition for some time.

“Staff are in PPE for long periods and working in a way we are not used to working, but the Wairarapa ‘just get on with it’ attitude takes over and everyone is working together well and with good humour.

“I agree that the strong relationships we are able to maintain in a small region are invaluable at times like this. We can move fast, we can make decisions, and we can quickly act on information that we readily share.

Thorpe said it was “far too soon” for self-congratulation, or to say that we are covid-19 free and can relax.

“We can’t,” she said. “The teams are out there in our six testing facilities, and are testing people with covid-19 symptoms every single day – any one of those tests could come back positive.

“Everyone needs to know that, while we may have no active cases now, that can change with just one lab test.” Oliff said.

“Our teams are working extremely hard to keep up our covid-free status and we need every single person in Wairarapa to work hard too,” she said.

All eight Wairarapa people diagnosed with covid-19 have since recovered. None required hospitalisation.

Anyone experiencing shortness of breath, fever, or cough should contact their medical centre or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice and referral to a covid-19 testing centre.

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