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Health workers with COVID 19 but no symptoms may need to work due to staff crisis

Asymptomatic Queensland health workers with COVID-19 may be called upon to treat patients with the virus in hospitals as part of an extreme all-level strategy being considered by health officials as the Omicron variant continues to grow. spread like wildfire in the community.

Queensland Director of Health John Gerrard confirmed yesterday the idea is being discussed as part of contingency plans to bolster the health workforce as a growing number of COVID-19 patients require hospitalization and, in some cases, intensive care.

He said 313 patients were treated at Queensland Health hospitals yesterday for COVID-19, but that is expected to reach thousands of cases in the coming weeks.

Dr Gerrard said 1,156 Queensland Health staff were currently infected with SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – and 1,835 were in quarantine.

These numbers are also expected to increase.

He said specific rules governing essential workers would be released soon, but foreshadowed a shortening of the seven-day isolation period required for close contact as the Omicron wave reached its peak, expected in early February.

Cuts to elective surgery

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has warned Queenslanders to prepare for cuts to elective surgeries statewide.

She said some hospitals had already taken steps to reduce non-emergency operations to alleviate staff shortages during the Omicron health crisis.

Some hospitals have already taken steps to reduce non-emergency operations to alleviate staff shortages, Ms. D’Ath said.(PAA: Jono Searle)

“We are currently reviewing whether we will move to this next level of suspension of elective surgeries in our hospital system as we move towards this increase and the peak of this increase over the next few weeks,” Ms. D’Ath said.

Surgeons and nurses perform an operation at a hospital in Canberra.
Queenslanders must prepare for cuts to elective surgeries statewide, Ms D’Ath said.(ABC News)

Younger healthcare workers catch the virus

Julia Clark, an infectious disease doctor at Queensland Children’s Hospital, said the biggest problem the hospital faced in terms of the COVID response was the number of health workers in their 20s and 30s who contracted the virus.

Of Queensland’s 57,677 confirmed cases of the virus, more than 58% are between 20 and 30 years old.

Dr Clark said young adults are an “important part” of the health workforce.

“It certainly has an impact on how we operate. “

About 600 child patients with COVID-19 are being monitored in the Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH) ‘virtual ward’ using telehealth and nine more children with the virus are receiving care in hospital.

Close up of signage atop the Queensland Children's Hospital complex in South Brisbane on February 4, 2021
Nine children infected with the virus are receiving hospital care at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in South Brisbane.(ABC News: Marc Smith)

However, Dr Clark said all but one of the COVID-19 patients treated at QCH were there for other reasons.

“They come up with other things and they just happen to have COVID,” she said.

“All of the children hospitalized, except one, have mild or even asymptomatic COVID.

“We’re not really worried about caring for a lot of children with severe COVID.

“What is a problem for us is all the staff who have to be absent because they also have COVID.”

As the Omicron wave intensified, Dr Clark said hospitals in Queensland and the country were moving to telehealth appointments for outpatients, where possible, to reduce the number of face-to-face contacts. to face.

Dr Clark said key areas, such as the emergency department, were given priority staffing.

“Planning for the worst”

Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union secretary Beth Mohle said maximizing the health workforce was the critical issue as the pandemic entered a third year.

“We predict the worst,” Ms. Mohle said.

“Right now what we’re focusing on is getting through this endemic community transmission of Omicron.

Beth mohle
Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union Secretary Beth Mohle said health workers predicted the worst.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Ms Mohle suggested that asymptomatic nurses with COVID-19 could work from home to monitor patients in “virtual wards.”

“Necessity is going to be the mother of invention here – we’re going to have to do things differently,” she said.

“We won’t be able to do what we normally do because we won’t have the human resources to do it – the staff are going to be sick and put on leave.

“These are amazing times – it’s one day at a time – but we have to work together to have a clear, evidence-based plan and direction that communicates this effectively.”

Three nurses sitting in front of computers in a nursing station in a hospital in Qld
Asymptomatic nurses with COVID-19 could work from home to monitor patients in “virtual wards,” Ms. Mohle says.(ABC TV News)

Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMAQ) president Chris Perry said preparations were underway to transform an ear, nose and throat (ENT) ward at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane into one intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients “if things go wrong”.

“They’ve been thinking about this thing for the last 18 months – they’re well prepared.”

A sign atop one of the buildings at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane
An ENT department at Princess Alexandra Hospital is being transformed into an intensive care unit for patients with COVID-19.(ABC News: Stefan Lowe)

Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Queensland Disaster Management Group would be formed next week, warning that the Omicron wave would “test the resilience of this state”.

She urged vulnerable Queensland residents, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, to avoid leaving their homes for the next six weeks to protect themselves from the virus.

Ms Palaszczuk’s warning comes as the latest federal government data shows more than 100 of Queensland’s 498 elderly care facilities are managing outbreaks of COVID-19, with 121 cases among residents.

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