US Embassy worker tests positive for COVID-19 as Canberra records first its recovery


March 26, 2020 16:25:17

Nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the ACT over the past day, while the first confirmed case of the virus in Canberra has now recovered, authorities say.

Key points:

  • One person in the ACT has now recovered from the virus
  • The US Embassy says a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the ACT’s tally to 53
  • Twenty new ventilators have been ordered from overseas for Canberra hospitals

The news of a recovered case of coronavirus comes after the US Embassy reported one of its staff in Canberra had tested positive.

ACT health authorities said the recovered person was diagnosed on March 12, and was now no longer required to self-isolate.

“From the start, [he] did everything right … and I would like to thank him,” ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

“People have been incredibly cooperative so far, and we hope that continues.”

Of the new cases announced today, eight are linked to overseas travel, while one was in contact with a confirmed case.

Some of the new cases are from cruise ships, but ACT Health has not specified how many.

Earlier today, the US Embassy confirmed one of the ACT’s 53 confirmed cases was a staff member.

“In coordination with Australian authorities and following all Australian and US health directives, the US Embassy has implemented all appropriate measures to help control the spread of COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said.

Two flights from the US to Australia have been connected to cases in Canberra, however it is not known whether the infected staff member used them.

Three of the ACT’s confirmed cases remain in hospital in a stable condition. The remainder are at home in self-isolation.

The news comes as the ACT prepares for the virus to reach a crisis point, sourcing ventilators and attempting to free up space in hospitals.

Finding space wherever it is available

Across the entire Canberra Health Services system, there is capacity for about 56 intensive care beds — in an ordinary intensive care setting.

But the mapping and planning that is going on is looking well beyond ordinary circumstances.

ACT COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases in Canberra: 53
  • Recovered cases in Canberra: 1
  • Tested negative in the ACT: 3,219
  • Nearby confirmed cases in:
    • Queanbeyan-Palerang: 5
    • Goulburn Mulwaree: 4
    • Eurobodalla Shire: 3
    • Yass Valley: 0
    • Cooma-Monaro: 0

Latest information from ACT Health and Southern NSW Local Health District.

Canberra Health Services chief executive Bernadette McDonald said staff were identifying any space at all in Canberra’s hospitals.

“If we needed to, we could actually extend further into other areas that are not typically ICU,” she said.

“You could nurse an ICU-type patient in other areas, like theatre recovery units.

“Then you can actually expand out into coronary care units, you can expand out into theatres.

“It’s dependent on where you’ve got the right setup — in terms of monitors and ventilators and equipment — to make it an ICU-type bed.”

Some space has already been cleared: a ward awaiting renovation is being put back to use, and high-risk cancer patients are being moved to both protect them and free up further space.

In total 30 other patients have this week been moved out of Canberra Hospital and Calvary, and into the University of Canberra Hospital.

Distillery steps up to provide hand sanitiser

Canberra distillery Underground Spirits has suspended its beverage production, working with the ACT Government to ensure a steady supply of alcohol-based hand sanitiser to medical workers, head distiller Toby Angstmann said.

“Our sanitiser will go to health carers who need it most, including GPs, doctors, nurses, theatre staff, Emergency Services and all health services,” Dr Angstmann, who is also an OBGYN, said.

The distillery has already produced more than 1,000 litres of hand sanitiser, all of which is being provided to the Government for the cost it takes to make.

“We cannot produce enough hand sanitiser fast enough to sell it to retail customers as well, and health care professionals are our priority,” Dr Angstmann said.

“If we get to a point where we can sell to our customers, Canberrans will be the first to get their hands on it.”

How many beds could be used for COVID-19 patients?

Depending on the availability of ventilators, it is hoped intensive care capacity could be stretched as far as 120 beds.

Sourcing more ventilators — a machine designed to help patients breathe when they no longer can on their own — could present a greater challenge for health officials though, as the machines are in enormous demand, not just in Australia, but globally.

Ms McDonald said 20 ventilators were already on order, and conversations were underway between ACT Health and other jurisdictions about the placement of machines nationally.

She said it was simply a matter of making the order and seeing what happened.

“We’re just like everyone else in Australia, putting the order in, and you get in line,” she said.

A full stocktake of current ventilators within the ACT is also underway, and other machines that could be used as ventilators in an emergency, like anaesthetic machines, are being identified.

Hopes for a quieter flu season

Last year’s record flu season placed incredible strain on Canberra’s health system, and was blamed for many of the capacity issues at hospitals.

Between July and September last year, just 40 per cent of emergency department patients were seen within the clinically recommended timeframe.

It was an extraordinary flu season — there were nearly 4,000 cases of the flu recorded by early October, and many others likely went undiagnosed.

But there is some quiet hope among specialists that the very unusual precautions being taken around COVID-19 will reduce the flu burden this year.

“People won’t be at work,” Ms McDonald said.

“All these precautions we’re taking to not give each other COVID-19, means we probably won’t give each other the flu at the same time.”

And, while the coronavirus situation is worsening much faster in New South Wales than the ACT, Canberra Health Services has assured the city its patients would be prioritised if demand started spilling across the border.

“We’re actually trying to make sure that we can serve Canberrans first, and we haven’t had any detailed conversation at this point about transfers of patients between jurisdictions,” Ms McDonald said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:








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March 26, 2020 06:32:40

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