Goondiwindi region's COVID-19 cases climb as kids start to get the jab

George Fing received his vaccination from nurse Pip Rocks.
George Fing received his vaccination from nurse Pip Rocks.

The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for five to 11-year-olds has begun, and Goondiwindi is helping keep its reputation as one of the highest vaccinated communities.

While Monday was the first 'official' day for clinics, more than 180 local children had already received their jab at the weekend.

GP Matt Masel said the region's residents were proactive in their fight against the pandemic.

"That's a really good roll out," he said.

With the news of a childcare worker testing positive, Dr Masel said he understood there would be many anxious parents within the community.

"There is an expectation that we will see some kids with COVID over the coming weeks and it's not a matter of saying, it's only a cold, it's potentially more than that, even in young kids," he said.

Goondiwindi GP, Dr Matt Masel, with his child-friendly mask at the weekend's vaccination clinic.

Goondiwindi GP, Dr Matt Masel, with his child-friendly mask at the weekend's vaccination clinic.

"I guess the best advice that remains, is the same for all ages, and that is to get vaccinated if possible. I know that may not help with the childcare aged children, but certainly with the primary school aged kids, the vaccines are rolling out.

"And the other thing that remains with kids, is trying to avoid exposure where possible. That's going to be very hard when parents are working and childcare is their only means of care, it can be tricky," he said.

As the nation anticipates the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the next few weeks, local cases have seen a significant rise recently.

According to the Queensland Government's official report, the Goondiwindi Local Government Area had 63 active cases on Monday however Dr Masel, said it was possible there could be hundreds of cases.

"It is hard to know exact numbers and even the very best estimates are probably underestimates. We know that when we hear the state and national numbers, they are significantly underestimates. I think something around 100 to 200 is a reasonable estimate for our region of Goondiwindi and surrounds, but maybe more," he said.

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The numbers rose dramatically in the past two weeks, likely due to the border openings and gatherings across the festive season.

"A lot of the cases in the first week or two were people picking it up in other places but obviously now that local transmission is the thing that's going to keep it going," Dr Masel said.

"I think now, a lot of people at least know someone who has had it, or at least been exposed."

Dr Masel said there had been some confusing messaging.

"When you listen to the national and state news it can get quite confusing and as changes happen on a regular basis.

"It's still best if you have symptoms of COVID to get tested to confirm if possible although it is becoming less practicable."

He said it was possible for residents to get a PCR test done at the Caltex testing site. The site has been more generally open over the last few weeks but if people are going for a reason other than having symptoms or having been a close contact who has been advised to get a PCR test, they either won't do the test or charge a cost for the test.

So far everyone, as far as I'm aware, is at home looking after themselves being supervised remotely by doctors.

Goondiwindi GP, Dr Matt Masel

Other options are via telehealth conference with your GP, who can organise a test through Sullivan Nicolaides and testing is available through the hospital.

"Because the hospital is quite busy looking after sick people we're trying to get people to use other methods if possible but testing is also available there (ring in advance)," Dr Masel said.

The GP believes the rapid antigen testing will be "really useful".

"I know the pharmacies are trying to get more supplies in. I know a number of places in town are getting the RAT test kits in because if you can get those, they are going to be the quickest way and certainly the least time consuming way of doing it. You don't have to queue up and can just grab them and do them yourself at home."

For those who are eligible to receive free RAT test kits, Dr Masel understands they will be available for collection via pharmacies or government testing sites like the Caltex.

"I think this might still be a week or so away, but will still be important when it comes. I certainly don't think they are available as of today but it is being organised as quickly as possible over the next week or so."

Dr Masel said recently, there had been the concept that COVID was just going to "rip through" the community, or everyone's going to get it, which suggests there was nothing we could do.

"That's not true at all; there's so much we can do and if we are all going to get it some point that may be, but there is a big advantage of everyone not getting it at once. In particular, for the sake of the kids who are yet to be vaccinated and in order to maintain the health services that we have.

"Nothing much has changed to be honest; it's really important people do the same things that have kept us safe up until now: avoid crowded indoor places especially, wear a mask when indoors and if possible an N95 mask. That type of mask are a little bit more expensive but are better.

"If you have got symptoms or if you've got COVID itself, isolate yourself as much as you can. If you can avoid passing it on to even one person, or certainly avoid passing it on to lots of people, that's really important for the community and health services generally.

"The best way to do that is stay isolated. That includes in your own household where at all possible. If you've got symptoms and other people in your household don't, isolate as much as you can: stay in a separate room, use a separate bathroom - and I know that's not possible for everyone - but as much as possible isolate if you have any symptoms and try not to pass it on to too many people at once.

"If you are at home and have COVID, the management is mostly along the lines of how you would treat a cold or bad flu in terms of rest, fluids, Panadol and the rest, but if you are worried about your breathing, if you are feeling faint or getting chest pains, or if there is anything you are worried about there is a COVID helpline (1800 020 080), your local GP and 000 if you are really worried. While we don't want to be overwhelmed with phone calls we also don't want people to think they can't ring their GP if they are concerned about how sick they are.

"And while we are seeing people face to face at the medical centre, for the next month or so we'd recommend people doing consults with their GP by Telehealth wherever possible. This will reduce the risk of exposure to COVID for everyone."

Dr Masel said it was reassuring that while there were plenty of steps we could take to help prevent the spread of infection, the positive local cases so far had not been severe.

"So far everyone, as far as I'm aware, is at home looking after themselves being supervised remotely either by doctors from Toowoomba or by their local GP in Gundy and not requiring hospital care or transfer at this point.

"That's really reassuring and probably reflects the fact that so many of us in the community got vaccinated when we had the opportunity, so well done."