With high rates of community transmission in the ACT in early 2022, there is a stronger chance than ever that you or a family member may contract COVID-19.
Now is the time to put some plans in place so that household members are well prepared to isolate at home should they test positive.
This may include buying or preparing meals to freeze and purchasing pain relief medications (such as Panadol or Nurofen), heat/cold packs and rehydration tablets, icy poles or sachets like Hydralyte or Gastrolyte. Having a thermometer on hand can be helpful to track fevers.
You may like to identify someone close to home you can call on for help if needed, like a neighbour, friend or family member, and offer to be that support person for them if needed.
If you contract COVID-19
If you suspect you have COVID-19, please isolate at home and undergo testing at one of the ACT's testing clinics or using a rapid antigen test.
If you are unwell while awaiting a test result, continue to isolate at home. You can reach out to your GP for support via telehealth and manage your symptoms by resting, staying hydrated and taking pain relief medications if required.
Most children who test positive for COVID-19 can be safely cared for at home by their usual household carers, even if they are not vaccinated. Information on caring for your child with COVID-19 at home is available on the ACT's COVID-19 website here.
Patients who are the highest risk of severe illness, particularly those who are not vaccinated, should get tested at the earliest sign of symptoms as they may be eligible for treatments that must be initiated within the first few days of illness.
The ACT's COVID Care@Home program can facilitate this and your GP can advise you on eligibility for the program and for relevant treatments.
If you do test positive, talk to your GP about whether you would benefit from the COVID Care@Home program. It supports patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are unvaccinated, immune-compromised or are concerned about their symptoms.
The team can provide access to an app to help monitor symptoms and a 24/7 contact number so patients can speak to a clinician if they need to.
Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, including by rapid antigen test, can also attend the ACT's Walk-in clinic for COVID-19 positive patients at the Garran Surge Centre.
This clinic provides treatment for non-life threatening injuries or illnesses unrelated to a COVID diagnosis, such as cuts and abrasions, strains and sprains, bites and stings, infections and wounds.
It also provides patients who are COVID-19 positive with in-person support, advice and interventions, and is open seven days a week from 7.30am to 10pm. No appointment is needed for this free service.
If you become very ill
In the case of severe symptoms, call triple zero (000) straight away. Tell the phone operator you've been diagnosed with or are awaiting a test result for COVID-19 and have severe symptoms, and that you need an ambulance.
If you are COVID-19 positive and attend the emergency department (ED) other than by ambulance, please contact them before attending if possible to inform them that you're a confirmed COVID-19 case. Wear a mask, and switch to the provided surgical mask outside on arrival.
Please do not attend the hospital if your symptoms are mild.
If you need further advice, you can call HealthDirect on 1800 022 222 or go online and work through its symptom checker.
If you do contract COVID-19, you may experience only mild symptoms and feel better in 3-4 days. A small portion of people may feel quite unwell for 7-14 days.
Initial symptoms may include a fever, sore throat, muscle pain and loss of taste.
Between Day 5 and 7, some people may be well on the way to recovery while others may begin to experience shortness of breath. Given our high vaccination rates and the rise of the Omicron variant, we are seeing a lot less of this now than we did in August last year.
If you do have respiratory symptoms, an oximeter will be useful to measure your oxygen levels to update your GP or the COVID Care@ Home team so they can assess whether to refer you to Hospital in the Home or the Emergency Department.
The COVID Care@Home program provides a kit including an oximeter to registered patients at higher risk of experiencing severe illness, and checks in regularly with them during this stage of the disease.
The COVID Care@Home support line should be the first port of call for these patients if their condition worsens so that the team can assess whether it is necessary to call an ambulance.
If you do need to go to hospital, bring a mobile phone or tablet and a charger so you can stay in contact with family and friends.
Fortunately, most people manage their symptoms at home well without going to the ED. This is important because we really don't want people coming to hospital for concerns that could be managed via a video call to a doctor or the delivery of medications to the home.
If you are suffering from symptoms as a result of COVID-19 after recovering from the initial illness, you may have ‘long COVID'.
Symptoms could include fatigue, headaches, joint or chest pain, a persistent cough and ‘brain fog', where you may face memory loss or difficulty thinking clearly.
The COVID Care@Home team or your GP can refer you to the Post-COVID Recovery Clinic at the University of Canberra Hospital.
It's going to be a challenging few weeks for our city, and a busy time for us at Canberra Health Services. We're ready to support you through it, and thank you for your patience as we manage increased patient numbers. In the meantime, please take care or yourselves and each other.
Ian Marr is a Staff Specialist in Infectious Diseases at Canberra Health Services. He has treated COVID-19 patients at Canberra Hospital and through the COVID Care@Home program in the ACT.