Moving past counting cases to living with COVID

MLHD executive director of medical services Dr Len Bruce and chief executive Jill Ludford.

While the country, and indeed the world, has spent the last 18 months counting COVID-19 cases, Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) executive director of medical services, Dr Len Bruce, says we are going to have to move past that now as we navigate our way into living with the virus.

“Living with COVID means that there will be COVID cases in the community, but our responsibility is to look after our community, in other words, prevent people from becoming severely unwell and needing hospitalisation, and obviously also patients passing away,” Dr Bruce said.

“The great news is we have very effective tools for that. Vaccination is obviously the best tool for us to manage COVID and for us to progress through the pandemic into what a post-COVID world will be.”

Dr Bruce said there is no question that vaccines are effective, but there is a lot of misinformation circulating around that. 

“The facts are if you are fully vaccinated, your risk of being hospitalised with COVID is four in 100,000. That means in the Murrumbidgee if we can vaccinate 200,000 of our population, we’ll only have eight people in hospital which is about a third of the capacity of the COVID ward,” he said.

“Obviously it is very sad for us when people pass away from COVID. Your chances of dying from COVID if you are fully vaccinated is one in 100,000. Clearly vaccines are effective, so it’s important that if you’ve not been vaccinated, please go out and get your vaccine. 

“The vaccines that we have available in Australia require two doses and we expect that you are fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose.”

There is also some concern in the community about whether or not people will need booster shots, however Dr Bruce said a very small group of the population will require a booster dose.

“It’s normally people that have chronic diseases where they have less of an immune response and they may need that third dose, but for the majority of the population, we will continue to be protected after six months,” he said.

“We are looking at whether or not there should be a third dose for other groups in the population, and we’ll work towards that and follow the guidelines.”

Dr Bruce said that while it is good to not be in lockdown, people should not forget all the precautions they took that have kept them safe.

“Mask wearing will probably not be mandatory for much longer, but it works,” he said.

“When I go to the shops, I’ll just continue doing that. It’s really important to keep doing all those things that have kept us safe over the past 18 months.”   

Meanwhile, MLHD’s border region is experiencing a significant outbreak of COVID-19 cases, with MLHD chief executive Jill Ludford saying the medical response has been ramped up in that region.

“We’ve got tested plans and processes in place to make sure that we are able to live and manage with COVID,” Ms Ludford said.

“This is going to be the way that we are probably going to live going forward as restrictions from both sides of that border area are starting to lift. 

“We heard over the weekend about changes happening in the Victorian system and of course in NSW, so living with COVID is something that we all need to understand and what we can do to help in that process.

“How we all need to work now as citizens is, if we have an outbreak in our town or community, it is only sensible that we continue to follow those COVID safety measures that we are all so well-versed in now, but also, put on hold any non-essential travel around or out of the community to help keep the community safe.” 

At time of press, there has been a total of 183 cases and two deaths recorded in the MLHD since the start of the current outbreak. These include 120 in Albury LGA, 25 in Hilltops LGA, 14 in Edward River LGA, 12 in the Greater Hume LGA, four in Murray River LGA, three in Federation LGA, two in Wagga Wagga LGA, two in Berrigan LGA and one in Griffith LGA. 

Ms Ludford said testing is very important, coupled with vaccination, but warned people against bringing their second dose forward.

“Please do not consider bringing forward your second dose earlier than the interval that is recommended in accordance with the vaccine you are provided. If you do, there are two things that will happen. One, you won’t get such a good result and your protection will not be as strong, and secondly, you may not be able to print out your COVID digital certificate which will mean it will be difficult for you getting into venues,” she said.

In the MLHD, 91.3 per cent have had a first dose of a COVID vaccination.

“That it absolutely worth celebrating. Last week we passed our 50,000th vaccine that Murrumbidgee have given, and we’ve now given 53,350 vaccines,” Ms Ludford said.

“All is going well but we’ve really got to get our second dose rate up to really slow any transmission of disease.”

NSW Health now has a new way of notifying exposure sites through the Service NSW app, which will make it easier for people to find out if they have been at a venue of concern.

“Once a contact tracer enters that data into the system, it goes straight to a website and people are able to then also look on their COVID app through Service NSW, which really negates that need to go through long, long lists of venues and trying to find where you might have been, so that’s a really important change,” Ms Ludford said.

“It just means that we can get those exposure sites identified much earlier for people.” 

Anyone currently experiencing, or who has recently experienced even mild cold-like symptoms is asked to come forward immediately for testing. It’s important that you isolate after your test until you get a result if you have symptoms. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, sore throat, cough, headache, runny nose, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches or pains, and a change in taste or smell.

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