Gaining valuable and credible insight into the challenges and realities faced by the local medical industry empowers us with factual information as opposed to speculation. Guiding us through the process is the highly respected, Dr Bianca Cooper of ER Consulting Inc and the Principal Clinical Manager Mediclinic Newcastle emergency centre.
Dr Cooper highlights, physical space limitations in the emergency centre and hospital are without question the real challenge faced.
“Especially as we must take precautions to separate the COVID-19/potential cases from the patients who are asymptomatic. This leads to increased waiting times,” she explains.
Dr Cooper goes on to say, contributing factors to this challenge includes the increased number of acutely ill patients due to Covid-19, as well as the large drainage area Newcastle serves.
“We are fortunate that lockdown gave us adequate time to prepare so medication and personal protective equipment is not an issue at our facility,” Dr Cooper clarifies.
As noted when referring to the stats on the Amajuba infections and subsequent recovery rate (5643 cases and an amazing 3740), are there enough ventilators in the Amajuba District? Or is there a greater need which requires attention?
Dr Cooper says, “I don’t feel that any area in the country feels they have enough ventilators. Ultimately, a ventilator will benefit only a few people, as this group of Covid-19 patients tend to do poorly regardless of intervention.
The above coupled with the fact that, “Mediclinic Newcastle’s Covid-19 Committee is constantly reviewing admission requirements and adjusting our bed needs accordingly. We are also able to arrange transfers to other facilities when necessary.”
However, Dr Cooper stresses, that more bed space would be truly beneficial for the patients requiring standard oxygen therapy and other supportive care. Unfortunately, care which simply cannot be administered at home.
While the local death rate has not surpassed 100 in the Amajuba District, has Dr Cooper noticed an increase in the number of people dying from COVID-19 while being transported to the hospital?
“Dead on arrival (DOA) patients have unfortunately always been present. I cannot comment on whether there is statistically a significant increase in these cases since the pandemic.”
Yet, Dr Cooper states, there are patients and families who are too scared to come to the hospital and delay help-seeking behaviour. This fear is misplaced as Mediclinic Newcastle takes great measures in ensuring the safety of all who come into the facility.
“However, DOA cases have many potential causes. Some patients deteriorate very quickly – they may appear ok when they go to bed but become very ill by the early hours of the morning. Patients are often coming from distances of an hour or more to get to the hospital; or have to wait for ambulance services or other transport.”
Through Dr Cooper’s experience, how rapidly can a person deteriorate after contracting COVID-19?
“Anything from a few days of the initial symptoms to a few weeks. Most of the severely ill patients in my experience, have had symptoms for 1-2 weeks.”
Building on the above, can Newcastillians expect the local death rate to increase over the ensuing weeks?
Shinning some much needed positive light on the subject, Dr Cooper explains, the new case rate has decreased over the last few days.
“We are unsure if this represents the end of the peak or merely the pause before a second wave, as has happened in other countries. As lockdown eases and the public becomes more anxious to return to normal, one may expect a second increase in total cases and possible deaths. I am hoping that the change in season will improve the situation, however, nothing is guaranteed in this pandemic and we have seen other countries severely affected during their summer months.”
How has COVID-19 changed the way ER Consulting Inc treats and assists patients?
“As a national group, managing many emergency centres across the country, we have complied with the policies that each hospital group has implemented for their emergency centres. We also have a centrally based Clinical Management team which constantly reviews the evidence and policies related to Covid-19 management, to ensure our doctor teams are always up to date.”
Dr Cooper adds they have also updated their roster cover, this is to cope with the fluctuating patient volumes, as well as providing additional staffing resources to hospitals where needed.
Looking at the safety of the medical professionals tending to the sick, what is a new change the doctors have had to adapt too?
“The greatest change to the individual doctor is our strong focus on PPE to keep our doctors from getting sick.” She emphasises.
Dr Cooper brings to our attention that through her and her team’s tireless work, she has noted that there are still common misconceptions around COVID-19.
There seem to be two camps who view the pandemic differently. The one group of people involves those who believe the media reports are exaggerated and that Covid-19 is no worse than the normal viral respiratory illnesses that we contract this time of year. Then there are those who believe a diagnosis of Covid-19 is a death sentence.
“Covid-19 is definitely causing more severe respiratory symptoms, and more patients require admission, than the regular colds and flu. However, most people recover well with minimal long-term effects’.
Dr Cooper continues to say, “A major misconception is that you are at no risk of severe illness if you are young, fit and otherwise healthy – while older patients and those with co-morbidities such as diabetes mellitus are at higher risk. Covid-19 can affect anyone. It is important to protect yourself and others by minimising social activities, time spent in crowds and wearing your mask in public.”
What steps should people follow if they suspect they have the virus?
It is important to not panic and contact your GP or a medical telephonic helpline for advice and to arrange for testing. During this time, there are certain procedural steps one must follow to ensure, that if you are indeed infected, you do not spread it.
“People should self-isolate as soon as they suspect they might have contracted Covid-19, or any other respiratory illness, for the protection of their family and community. Mild Covid-19 cases are treated symptomatically and supportively,” states Dr Cooper.
If a person feels unwell or even just anxious, it is best to consult a doctor in person, either your GP or in the emergency centre at the hospital, to allow for proper assessment of the severity of illness.
“Once the diagnosis is confirmed, it is essential to follow the guidelines for self-isolation and get as much rest as possible. It is also important to contact your doctor if you are feeling worse or develop new symptoms. It is better to check-in “unnecessarily” than delay escalation of treatment. ER Consulting Inc runs a telemedicine service which is able to provide virtual consultations, referrals for investigations, prescriptions and sick notes on 0878451820 or http://www.erconsulting.co.za/virtual-consultations/.”
Thank you to Dr Cooper for sharing her insights on the current realities of the Covid-19 situation, as well as assisting the public in debunking false information. This all aids the community as a whole to work in harmony to flatten the curve. Newcastillians are encouraged to adhere to the necessary protocols to protect themselves and their families. Wear your facemask in public, sanitise your hands on a regular basis and practise social distancing.