ORANGE'S infectious diseases specialist says there's light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel in sight but it will take much more work to reach.
Orange Health Service dedicated its emergency department as a hot zone for respiratory patients earlier this month and set up a separate cold zone for patients with other ailments and injuries.
But infectious diseases physician Dr Jake Williams said with stabilising COVID-19 cases in the region, the hot and cold zones might soon be able to become separate streams, co-located within the ED.
"The battle is turning in our favour, the numbers are lower than we might have projected," he said.
"The good news is when the demand comes, we will be able move into those spaces really easily - not only can we go back to it, but we can go back to it faster and better than we would if we were doing it for the first time.
"We're now at a situation where we're lucky to be able to say how do we use these models of hot and cold for the next six months, 12 months at a time where we may not have coronavirus all throughout our community, but we may have pockets of activity or the odd presentation?"
Dr Williams has been a medical lead in decision-making on infection prevention, ensuring the hospital's practices kept staff and patients as safe as possible while maintaining a high level of care.
He said streamlining services had been key to preparing for unpredictable demand, but cold zone patients' care had not been compromised by the splitting of emergency resources.
... if Orange says 'we're going to go back to normal', the influx of people from other places looking to go to restaurants, to businesses, to parks and things will be huge and will be a risk to our community.Infectious diseases physician Dr Jake Williams
With most cases n the region now headed towards recovery, Dr Williams said the next step was expanded testing to minimise local transmission, especially since only 10-20 per cent of patients needed hospital admission and cases were infectious before they showed symptoms.
He said hospitals had rapid tests on hand, as well as enough swabs for anyone meeting the criteria.
"We are testing everyone who's admitted to hospital with a respiratory illness regardless of whether they've travelled or been on a cruise ship," he said.
He said the hospital was seeing the benefits of people staying at home and minimising their travel and encouraged them to keep it up as much as possible as schools returned to normal.
"I would encourage everybody to continue to do what they have been doing in terms of social distancing - although we have had some success it's not set in stone," he said.
"At the moment it's very hard for us to unpick what we're doing here, irrespective of how successful we are, without making sure it's sustainable across the state because obviously if Orange says 'we're going to go back to normal', the influx of people from other places looking to go to restaurants, to businesses, to parks and things will be huge and will be a risk to our community."
He said the fact remained only 50 people in the region were now immune to the virus until a vaccine was found.
Dr Williams praised Orange Health Service staff on their efforts.
"It is absolutely unprecedented, it's unlike anything anybody in the field has seen in their professional lives," he said.
"The medical community is extremely connected, as is the nursing community and when we see what's happening overseas to patients, to colleagues, when we see doctors getting really sick and sometimes dying, that makes us all feel incredibly vulnerable because we want to help people and we love what we do, but we want to be safe.
"For our staff to continue to provide care with that in the back of their minds takes a real amount of bravery."
DO YOU WANT MORE ORANGE NEWS?
- Receive our free newsletters delivered to your inbox, as well as breaking news alerts. Sign up below ...