Canberra Health Services staff have been warned “things could be turning” as the system braces for a triple health threat this winter.
While CHS CEO Dave Peffer usually sends email updates to staff on what to expect in the coming months, this one noted they needed to be prepared for an uptick in need for their services.
“Well, the ACT (and the rest of Australia) has had a good run in recent months [but] … things could be turning,” he wrote.
“Updated numbers suggest the ACT is in the midst of an XXBB.1.5 wave.”
This refers to the latest COVID-19 Omicron subvariant, which the World Health Organisation said could “contribute to an increase in cases globally” due to its ability to replicate quickly.
Mr Peffer noted hospitalisations were already trending upwards, with staff urged to prepare now for a potential “accelerating wave”.
“The week-to-week [hospitalisation] rise being the second fastest since mid-December … [and] with recent outbreaks in a number of inpatient wards, it’s the right time to be reviewing our settings,” he wrote.
“I’m foreshadowing the potential for change in the weeks ahead … Modelling for the week ahead is predicting a sustained increase in weekly numbers and an increase in hospitalisations.
“Watch this space.”
Our healthcare workers aren’t the only ones preparing for a tougher winter period.
Teachers and staff at Canberra’s public schools have also been warned sicknesses could further exacerbate staff shortages in the next few months.
“Between the national teacher shortage, colder weather, flu season and the ongoing global pandemic, it is sensible for us to expect that there could be pressures on our teaching workforce in Term 2 and to plan for that accordingly,” an Education Directorate spokesperson said.
Staff have been advised to be prepared to adapt or modify their programs to help manage resource pressures.
The spokesperson said schools had a range of methods to manage staffing arrangements, many of which had been available “well before the pandemic”.
“This can include the use of inbuilt or external relief, changes to class offerings and scheduling, further teaching supports from the Directorate, short-term collapsing of classes, as well as other mechanisms,” they said.
It comes as medical modelling from the northern hemisphere’s recent flu season suggests we could experience an earlier and more severe flu season ourselves.
Bupa Health Insurance Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony MacDermott said doctors were anticipating a triple pandemic in the form of multiple viruses simultaneously.
“We’re anticipating a perfect storm of flu, COVID-19 and other flu-like viruses to come together this winter,” he said.
“With Australians effectively back to normal lifestyles, we’re expecting to see more COVID and flu cases this year.”
Dr MacDermott encouraged people to get both their flu and COVID booster shots before the end of May to ensure they were protected in time.
“The higher risk of being hospitalised with the flu this year means it’s even more important to get vaccinated, especially for high-risk groups,” he said.
Dr MacDermott encouraged people to get vaccinated before the end of May to protect them against the upcoming flu season.
“The best protection will always be prevention, and our advice to people who are due for their COVID booster is to get their flu shot together with their COVID booster ahead of the winter season,” he said.
“Each virus is different, affecting individuals in different ways, so it’s important to get both shots – and they’re perfectly safe to receive on the same day.”
An ACT Health spokesperson confirmed the directorate expected an increase in acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and influenza, in line with seasonal trends this winter.
“As we approach the cooler months, the ACT Health Directorate would like to remind Canberrans about the importance of staying COVID Smart,” they said.
“Stay at home if you feel unwell. Test for COVID-19 if you have symptoms. Even if the test is negative, remain at home until you’re feeling better. Practise good hand and respiratory hygiene and consider wearing a mask when entering public indoor settings or where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing.”
The spokesperson said ACT Health would continue to monitor and assess the Territory’s epidemiological situation and risk profile and would adapt the public health response if appropriate.
According to the latest COVID-19 report, there were 550 new cases in the week from 31 March to 7 April, with 49 people hospitalised – three of whom were in ICU.
Going back through the data, an upwards trend in cases and hospitalisations is easy to spot.
For the reporting period 24 March to 30 March, one person had died, with 526 new cases recorded and 21 people in hospital.
From 17 March to 23 March, 515 cases and 14 active cases in hospital were recorded.
Similar numbers were reported for the week before that.
Influenza data is currently not being recorded in the ACT.