The chief health officer for NSW, Dr Kerry Chant, has made an urgent plea for workers involved in caring for the elderly and vulnerable to stay at home even if they have the mildest of symptoms.
This comes as a 12th person has died at the Newmarch House aged care home in Sydney from COVID-19. To date, 34 residents and 22 staff members have tested positive for the virus.
The outbreak has been traced a nurse who worked several consecutive shifts at the home in early April. It is believed that during that time she displayed no symptoms of coronavirus and only later complained of a ‘scratchy throat’.
Symptoms may be mild, but don’t go to work
“I would urge people to remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 can be incredibly mild and the key point is ‘do not go to work’,” Dr Chant said.
“I would particularly urge [that] if you work associated with providing care to the elderly, the aged and disabled … to have that incredibly high awareness of even minor changes in your health.
“It doesn’t matter how mild those symptoms are – runny nose, sore throat, just a scratchy throat in this case. Please don’t go to work.
Four residents died on Tuesday and one on Wednesday
The 12th resident of the home died on Wednesday 29 April, a day after four other residents passed away. All of the four were aged in their late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
The outbreak began over Easter Sunday and the situation at Newmarch House continues to be grim. There are still about 80 residents living at the home, which is located in the suburb of Kingswood.
Grant Millard, the CEO of Anglicare, the Christian not-for-profit organisation that runs the facility, said further fatalities were anticipated. “We were warned on the weekend to expect a number of very difficult days this week with residents passing. We do anticipate more deaths,” he told the ABC.
Anglicare said in a statement: “This is a terrible situation and a challenge for us [and] our staff, but especially for our residents and their families.”
Concern over lack of information
Meanwhile, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a press conference that she was concerned at the lack of information being given to residents’ family members since the outbreak began.
“I can confirm last night the minister for health contacted the federal minister for aged care to express our government’s concerns at the lack of communication between the centre’s operators and the relatives,” she said.
Some relatives have complained that they cannot get through to the facility on the phone and are not being given timely information about the condition of their loved ones. Newmarch House has been in lockdown since late March and no visitors are permitted.