GP shares concerns over COVID-19 information vacuum

A LACK of communication from Cairns Hospital about contact tracing has a local GP concerned an information vacuum could lead to misinformation and distrust as the COVID-19 crisis worsens.

Last week, ahead of the first Cairns case of the virus, Cairns and Hinterland Hospital Service severed all pandemic-related communication not given the green light from Queensland Health head office in Brisbane.

Now with five positive cases and almost a week since the first diagnosis, no information has been made available to the public on places visited by infected patients.

Cairns GP Aileen Traves said a centralised flow of information from Brisbane meant Cairns Hospital staff had been directed not to release any information.

"We suddenly lost all information from our local team, it was literally radio silence overnight," she said. "We went from having good information coming out of our local health service to nothing."

A Cairns resident has raised concerns about living in the same street as a man recently locked down in his home after contracting COVID-19.
A Cairns resident has raised concerns about living in the same street as a man recently locked down in his home after contracting COVID-19.

The GP at Thrive Medical in Cairns North said the absence of information on patient contact tracing in the case of Cairns' first diagnosis fuelled social media speculation.

She said this had led to rumours about Cairns venues the affected tourists might have visited.

"At the time it would have had a major impact on their business," she said.

"(And) there are some valid reasons around patient confidentially why that information is not being widely shared which is part of the state management plan."

However as a community member, Dr Traves said in regard to new case disclosure there was a problem.

Cairns GP Dr. Aileen Traves has joined other general practitioners around the country warning citizens to take coronavirus seriously and adhere to the government restrictions in place, or tougher restrictions will be imposed on our way of life. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Cairns GP Dr. Aileen Traves has joined other general practitioners around the country warning citizens to take coronavirus seriously and adhere to the government restrictions in place, or tougher restrictions will be imposed on our way of life. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

"We would like to know what is going on.

"We only had small cases here but I wanted to know that they were doing their best to contain it and we only got a Queensland Health letter to say 'contact tracing was under way.' And that's really concerning when there is only a few cases in our community," she said.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said contact tracing was standard procedure to prevent the spread of all serious disease.

"As part of this process, we speak to the patient to identify anyone who might have had close contact with them during their infectious window," she said.

"(However) only those who are considered as a close contact to these cases need to be aware and cautious. These people will be contacted directly by our public health clinicians."

 

Q&A with Dr Traves

Can you be contagious without exhibiting symptoms?

Yes. That's why there is a 14-day quarantine period if you have travelled in case you develop any symptoms, because potentially you were infectious before you developed symptoms. And that is what people are not understanding, they need to stay at home, that means no visitors, it means no visits, it means no shopping. It means stay at home, see no one and go nowhere. Because you may be infectious and you don't know.

Do masks actually stop you from getting the virus?

They don't absolutely stop you from getting it. It depends on the type of mask. The most recommended mask, the N95 type masks, have particular (specifications) in regard to the size of the particles but they have to be properly fitted and there is a limit to how long they can be worn for. Because when you're breathing in and out they become wet and they are not effective when they are wet. It's not as easy as saying "everyone should wear masks and then no one will get it" because that is not true, but there is some benefit. And one of the major issues we are seeing in health worker transmission is touching an infected mask with your hand.

How long does the disease last on surfaces outside the body?

It's pretty controversial and there is lots of different answers. I have seen information saying anywhere from eight hours to 57 hours. Some information around says up to 11 days. There are studies looking at this and it depends on lots of different factors. It seems to stay on some surfaces longer than others. And exposure to weather and sun is a factor. There has been a lot of misinformation about what temperature it can survive at and advice about drinking hot drinks and blowing hair dryers up your nose to kill it. And I think we don't absolutely know and that is why the advice is to regularly wipe down everything to minimise the number of infected droplets on surfaces around the home.

How important is the public's role in preventing the spread?

Absolutely critical. We are not going to stop transmission unless we have everyone on board doing the right thing. If people don't stay at home it will continue to spread and we will see community transmissions exponentially. That's why we are seeing lockdowns in other countries because people didn't take the advice, are not following it and they are going out for last drinks at the pub, which just spreads the virus. And it's extremely contagious, so unless everybody does exactly what they are being told it's going to continue to spread.

How long should swabs take to come back?

It depends who you are. We have seen some that were expedited extremely quickly but for the general public it depends on how often they are doing the testing and where you are. It can vary from a few hours, like with Peter Dutton's swab, through to several days.

Originally published as GP shares concerns over COVID-19 information vacuum



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