A LEADING doctor has warned that we can expect a spike in the number of patients with Covid-19 in Donegal over the coming weeks.
Dr James McDaid of the Scally, McDaid, Roarty medical practice in Letterkenny said that while we wait for a vaccine, which could be up to 18-months away, we will have to remain so careful in every aspect of our lives.
Speaking to the Donegal News yesterday, Dr McDaid explained that we must be in a position to quickly test anyone with symptoms, then rapidly trace and test contacts of positive cases before we can start lifting restrictions in any meaningful way.
While testing turnaround times have improved he argued that we are not yet where we need to be.
Dr McDaid referred to a recent Covid-19 outbreak in the HSE Outpatient department, located on the second floor of their building, in March.
“It was at a time when contact tracing was abysmal. We are a Primary Care centre and the outbreak of seven confirmed cases was in the Outpatient unit above us. It could have been disastrous,” Dr McDaid said.
A change in the testing criteria this week now means more people are likely to be referred for Covid-19 testing.
“Things have improved considerably but contact tracing is still not as quick as we would like. During this time waiting for results and identifying contacts, a person’s infected contacts can be unknowingly spreading the virus. If the only contacts are within your own household, as is the case for most people during the lockdown, the number is limited.
“For example, we had a patient who came back from Italy in the first ten days of February who was tested but didn’t get their results back until early March. They were positive but God only knows who they were in contact with during those four weeks.
“Letterkenny was busier yesterday as restricting were eased on cocooning and if more people start going to the shops and meeting friends, then there could be a devastating spread,” Dr McDaid warned.
At present, the GP surgery remains closed with all contact made via telephone.
“We met this week to look at our own roadmap to see when we might be able to open up to the public again. I plan to start minor surgeries before the end of the month to get things moving and, hopefully, start seeing patients then too,” he said.
“Unfortunately a lot of elderly people who were sick or with underlying illnesses have already lost their lives due to the virus. I would expect the number of confirmed cases to rise next week but, thankfully, the death rate should stay quite low.
“If we can we should put things to one side until May 18 and follow the rules we’ll all have done the State some service,” Dr McDaid said.
The required level of testing, within the community, is still not in place and without them GPs fear we could see the number of positive cases of Covid-19 grow once restrictions are lifted.
Dr Paul Grant is a senior partner at the Maginn Medical Centre in Buncrana. He believes the time is right to start easing restrictions.
“It has to be tried and tested as we’re all maybe a little Covid fatigued at this stage. The only reason there’s less cases this past week or two is because of the measures that have been in place for the past six weeks. People have been in isolation and, in fairness, they’ve all adhered to the letter of the law. Now we have to test the water and we’ll either more forward or have to go back a step. It’s the only reasonable thing to do now for people’s mental well being and for economic purposes,” Dr Grant said.
Buncrana has been badly hit by the coronavirus with several clusters and a number of deaths recorded in the town.
“Inishowen has been badly hit relative to the rest of Donegal and we’re not exactly sure why but it has settled well since things tightened up through isolation,” he said.
He explained there will still be many who have the virus but no symptoms.
“We’ve found quite a number of infected people who had no symptoms at all. As well as that, for people who do show symptoms they can be infecting others for two days before they start to feel unwell.
“The only way of reducing spread from these people is to behave as though everyone, including you, has the virus. We need to test, get results back and have a proper contact tracing system in place so that we can narrow it down and ring fence the virus. Only then can we know who can go back to work and move around a bit,” he said.
As we come towards the end of another week of restrictions many, especially those cocooning, may be finding the isolation difficult.
“The virus is still very much out there and people can’t afford to become complacent. Stick with the programme. There’s no alternative but isolation at the moment,” Dr Grant said.
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