23 May 2022

UPDATED: Health Minister tests positive for COVID-19; healthcare system busy with COVID-19 patients

| Lottie Twyford
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minister for health Rachel Stephen-Smith

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith revealed this morning she had tested positive for COVID-19. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

UPDATED 2:30 pm: The Territory’s Health Minister has tested positive for COVID-19, she confirmed on Twitter this morning.

On her social media, Rachel Stephen-Smith said she would be working from home for the week ahead.

“I’ve done a lot of RATs over the last few weeks. This morning I had cold symptoms and the RAT came up positive,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Several members of the ACT Legislative Assembly have previously caught the virus.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis meant she had to miss the first sitting week of the year in February. Her Liberal colleague Mark Parton also caught COVID-19 earlier in the year.

Greens MLA and Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson also tested positive for the virus back in January.

Canberra Hospital

There are now 91 people in the Territory’s hospitals with COVID-19. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

12:30 pm: Pressure is growing on the Territory’s public healthcare system as hospitalisations remain near record highs.

Today, there are 91 people hospitalised with the virus, down slightly from yesterday’s high of 92 people in hospital.

Four people are currently in intensive care and two are being ventilated – the same number as yesterday.

Last week, Canberra Health Services (CHS) announced it would need to close the Tuggeranong Walk-in Centre for the weekend due to workforce pressures.

The AIS will also close its doors at the end of the month so those staff working there can return to general duties in the public healthcare system.

This followed changes to elective surgeries made earlier last week, including a need for some to be cancelled over winter.

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Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith stressed last week there were no issues with the physical capacity of the Territory’s hospitals, it was instead a question of staffing.

It’s understood between 130 and 150 healthcare workers are furloughed every day due to COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses.

Speaking today (23 May), Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the current COVID-19 situation had been expected, and while he hoped daily caseloads would drop in the coming weeks and months, it was unlikely to fall much lower anytime soon.

“We remain hyper-vigilant to anything unexpected emerging,” Mr Barr said.

He stressed the importance of monitoring trends such as fully vaccinated or boosted people requiring intensive care instead of the “headline number” of patients alone. This is also because the ACT’s reporting of COVID-19 cases in hospitals doesn’t differentiate between active and cleared infections, and anyone in hospital – even if for a different reason – who has COVID-19 is counted in those statistics.

The last time this data was released it covered the period to Sunday, 8 May. It showed 49 per cent of people requiring ICU care were unvaccinated, five per cent had received one dose of vaccine, 34 per cent has two doses and 19 per cent were boosted.

No one had been admitted to the ICU who had received four doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

The Chief Minister acknowledged there was pressure on the system which would lead to “a difficult winter” with an expected increase in COVID-19 and influenza cases.

He said the situation was being closely monitored by authorities.

“It’s our preference not to delay elective surgeries because then you end up with a backlog … but we have to if we will.”

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The additional 622 (314 PCR and 308 RAT) COVID-19 cases recorded overnight bring the ACT’s total active caseload to 5409 (2869 PCR and 2540 RAT).

A total of 125,828 (77,091 PCR and 48,737 RAT) COVID-19 infections have been recorded locally since the pandemic began.

The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population remains 97.2 per cent and 76.2 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have now received a booster.

Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 67.4 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.

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Interstate, NSW has reported five deaths overnight and 7178 new cases of COVID-19.

There are now 1236 people in hospital with the virus and 35 people in ICUs around the state.

Victoria has reported five deaths overnight and 8971 cases of COVID-19.

There are now 555 people hospitalised with the virus, while 29 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.

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