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Hand hygiene, distancing and face masks still the way forward according to expert panel

The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) and Illawarra Business Chamber (IBC) hosted an interactive webinar outlining how businesses can move forward during and after the coronavirus.

The panel of medical experts included Associate Professor of Surgery and COVID-19 task group leader at Wollongong Hospital Dr Bruce Ashford, Senior Postdoctoral Scientist in the Virology Research Lab at UNSW Dr Sacha Stelzer-Braid, and Associate Professor Darren Saunders, from UNSW Medicine.

The webinar was moderated by IHMRI Chief Operating Officer Kara Lamond, who asked the panel how businesses can ensure their staff can return to a safe workplace.

Dr Stelzer-Braid explained that it is vital to keep up the efforts of social distancing and hand hygiene.

She cited a recent US study that tracked infection rates before and after the mandating of face masks in the health care space.

“The study showed that when they had universal masks, worn by health workers and patients, there was a clear decrease in the rate of infections. I think when you have high community transmission, or hotspots, such as Victoria, it really makes sense to wear a mask,” Dr Stelzer-Braid explained.

Jenni Hutchins, CEO of community pre-school group Big Fat Smile, asked about the efficacy of thermometers within the early childhood sector. Dr Stelzer-Braid explained that while thermometers are useful, it is important to keep rooms ventilated and host activities outside to promote social distancing.

A/Professor Bruce Ashford explained that thermometers were an extra step in the challenge to monitor the spread.

“We want to stack all of this in our favour. We don’t know all the answers, and we may look back in hindsight and think ‘wow, that was an overreaction.’ If that’s the case, and we have massively overreacted, perfect.”

Moving forward with uncertainty

The panel was also asked about the likeliness of suppression versus elimination, with A/Professor Darren Saunders reiterating that suppression was more viable.

“I’m not sure that we have the community or political appetite for what it would take to achieve elimination without a vaccine,” A/Professor Saunders said.

“We’re walking a tight rope of economic and health consequences, which are inextricably linked, but I think suppression is the most pragmatic course at this point.”

When asked how prepared the Illawarra was for the potential of a second wave, A/Professor Bruce Ashford said he was confident in the context of the hospital’s actions.

“When determining how prepared we are in the local health district and the hospital, I would say we are a lot better prepared than before, since we’ve had a bit of a dummy go,” he explained.

“If the Premier were to turn around tomorrow and say that we are going into stage four lockdown and you can’t leave your house unless it’s on fire, as a community I think we would be more inclined to accept that.”

Media contact

Lizzie Jack, Media and Content Coordinator

t: 4221 5432

e: ejack@uow.edu.au

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