Dr Clare Garner asks locals to take action

DOCTORS' ORDERS: Naracoorte GP Clare Garner warns that our health systems may not cope if we do not act now to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Catherine Miller.
DOCTORS' ORDERS: Naracoorte GP Clare Garner warns that our health systems may not cope if we do not act now to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Catherine Miller.

Naracoorte's Dr Clare Garner is warning locals that the town will find it difficult to cope if there is a major outbreak of COVID-19 and is imploring people to practice social distancing and self-isolation.

Dr Garner has been a doctor for more thanr 15 years, having spent 11 of those practising as a GP in Naracoorte.

About a week ago, Dr Garner made a Facebook post urging the people of Naracoorte and surrounding towns to take the virus seriously.

The post has since been shared over 1000 times and illustrates the reality of a pandemic in our town if the community were to continue acting carelessly.

Dr Garner said she felt the need to post her professional opinion after observing some nonchalance from residents around the virus.

"I noticed that there was a little bit of complacency around town and around social distancing.

"It seemed that half the population really understood and the other half didn't, so I thought it was time for me to put my own personal spin on it", Dr Garner said.

In her post, Dr Garner highlighted that Naracoorte's small hospital has no intensive care unit (ICU), and usually has to fly critically ill patients out to Adelaide via the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

"In the event of a large COVID-19 outbreak, if there's no plane or beds available in Adelaide then those patients may need to be treated locally, and when we don't have an ICU, we may need to do the best we can," she said.

The Naracoorte population currently stands at about 6000 people, and during a pandemic 40-70% of the population can become infected.

"One in 20 people infected will need an ICU bed and ventilation, and our hospital has 20 beds and no ICU beds.

"I'll let you do the maths," Dr Garner said in her post.

The Naracoorte GP explained that in the event of a crisis people would need to be prioritised, whereby patients with the best chance of survival would be treated first.

"If you are older, or have a chronic medical condition, you may not have the option of being transferred out.

"We may need to make ethical decisions we have never had to face before, about who gets treatment and who doesn't.

"Please do not let us have to make these decisions," she said.

In order to combat the spread of the virus, Dr Garner said proper hand-washing and hygiene were extremely important.

"Try to avoid touching your face because we know the virus is spread through bodily fluids like cough and sneeze particles, and it needs entry into the body as well so it can enter by the mouth, nose and eyes," she said.

Dr Garner said that local doctors in Naracoorte and surrounding areas are all training in the use of Personalised Protective Equipment (PPE) and having regular meetings to prepare themselves in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak.

"Our Naracoorte Principal Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Taylor, is working closely with the Limestone Coast Local Area Health Network Medical Director Dr Pretorius

"They're speaking almost daily and plans are evolving for what Naracoorte and Mount Gambier and the surrounding towns will do in the event of a large outbreak," she said.

Since making the post, Dr Garner said she has received an outpouring of positive feedback from friends and family who shared the post to others who have gone on to change their everyday behaviour.

"I think people were feeling a bit distanced from the actual virus because geographically we are a long way from Adelaide, and seeing it play out on their TV's is different to seeing it play out in their own town.

"This just put some perspective on it," she said.

Dr Garner stressed that she made the post to push the importance of the community trying to prevent a large outbreak happening at all.

"The choices we make now as a community and how well we implement social distancing and our hand-washing and isolation and quarantine will impact on the community's health outcome in the weeks and months ahead," she said.

If you are feeling unwell and think you may have symptoms related to Coronavirus, please call your local clinic or hospital for advice prior to turning up.

"The take-home message is clear; you need to stay home unless absolutely necessary because every social interaction we have risks spreading the virus further," Dr Garner said.