Grafton Base Hospital COVID-19 clinic coordinator Travis Armstrong at the clinic.
Grafton Base Hospital COVID-19 clinic coordinator Travis Armstrong at the clinic.

COVID FRONTLINE: Inside our hospital testing clinic

 

There are nearly 10 people waiting for Travis Armstrong when he arrives at work in the morning. None of them want to be there, but Mr Armstrong said he felt compelled to do his bit to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Armstrong is the co-ordinator of the Grafton Base Hospital COVID-19 clinic, and the people lining up are waiting to be tested by the team on hand, with more and more appearing at the door since testing restrictions relaxed.

"It's new for everyone; we've never had to do anything like this before," Mr Armstrong said.

"A lot of the work here and in the emergency department has been preparing for the pandemic, and if we get an increase in numbers how we respond."

The day starts like many others for Mr Armstrong, who is also a Nursing Unit Manager 1 in the emergency department.

"A lot of people used to come to work in uniform and shoes, but a lot are starting to come in civvies and change at work," he said.

"When we first started, it was one of the things we considered doing to prevent taking germs outside the environment and back into our homes."

Mr Armstrong's work attire is different from his usual ward uniform, covered head-to-toe in a surgical gown and other personal protective equipment.

"We wear theatre scrubs, and then a gown, mask, gloves and goggles," he said.

"Every patient we see the gloves get changed, and the surgical masks last six hours.

"You have to be mindful that if you touch them, then you have to replace everything."

Mr Armstrong said the mood of the people they see in the clinic, now numbering more than 40 a day, was positive.

"The people are generally OK, they're following the advice of the health professionals and presenting if they have any symptoms," he said.

"People have been calm. Initially at the start we could only swab people who met specific criteria which caused a bit of confusion because people were coming for tests and if they didn't meet those we couldn't swab them.

"Now we're testing everyone who has fever or respiratory symptoms, and it makes it a bit easier because you don't have to do that screening.

"It's not a particularly pleasant test, but it's the same test for any virus, and now we're doing nose and throat swabs."

Grafton Base Hospital COVID-19 clinic coordinator Travis Armstrong at the clinic.
Grafton Base Hospital COVID-19 clinic coordinator Travis Armstrong at the clinic.

 

The tests first go to the Grafton Base Hospital pathology lab, before being transported to Lismore for the analysis, with most results taking around 48 hours depending on workload.

And while they've tested hundreds of patients during this period, Mr Armstrong said the team were always glad to see the numbers stay relatively lowd, with the last positive test in late-March.

"I think at the start of it all there was certainly an element of fear if we had a big outbreak how we'd cope, so to see the numbers aren't growing is really positive," he said.

"It is difficult because even though there are not many cases, you still have to treat people who arrive with respiratory symptoms as if they've got Covid until the test is clear. It may be a low risk at the moment, but we still have to go through the processes."

Mr Armstrong said the precautions they take were the same infection control regimen followed at the hospital, and was pleased to see the public follow similar precautions.

"It's all about hand-hygiene and being really mindful of not touching your face," he said.

Despite the team being at the frontline of the Clarence Valley's response to a global pandemic, Mr Armstrong said the initial fear and uncertainty had led to an overwhelming sense of public service.

"I think I had a sense that I owed it to the public to do my part here to help out," he said.

"We have a sense of purpose and try to do our part, and it's something I've noticed throughout the team.

"It's really brought us all together to try and combat it and do the right thing."

And for anyone nervous about presenting at the clinic, Mr Armstrong was clear.

"From what I see the people in the community are taking it seriously and are trying to do their bit, which means if they have the symptoms to come in and get it checked," he said. "That's what we're here to do."



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