More than 400 medical professionals have been forced into isolation by the latest outbreak of COVID-19’s Delta strain in south-east Queensland.
This is a first for the essential workers, who are normally allowed to work during lockdowns.
Emergency doctor Kim Hansen has been ordered to stay home for 14 days with her husband and three daughters after attending the Brisbane Girls Grammar School open day at the same time as a known coronavirus case.
“It’s very frustrating for us, who are used to being out and about — we don’t work from home as emergency doctors, we enjoy seeing patients and helping patients,” Dr Hansen said.
She is worried the absence of healthcare professionals is a burden on her hospital’s emergency department, where colleagues have to pick up the load.
“It’s about a 10 per cent [loss] across the emergency departments I work at, they’re holding up OK and they’re able to continue their service as usual, but some colleagues are picking up the slack and they’re having to do more work.”
Dr Hansen said the lockdown has also meant important surgeries are being delayed.
“I know of patients whose cancer operations are being delayed, and really that’s so sad, so frustrating and so tragic, so the sooner we can get back to what we normally do, the better.
“It’s devastating for those patients, some of them have waited a long time for their surgery and so it’s really just devastating.
“Surgeons love nothing more than operating so it’s really, really frustrating for them to be stuck at home and not at the hospital where they want to be.”
Dr Hansen said while the health system is still coping, she would hate to see more medical professionals impacted.
“We know that in Melbourne last year there were severe consequences for some healthcare practitioners,” she said.
“Some caught COVID. One of my colleagues ended up in intensive care.”
Dr Hansen said she hopes south-east Queensland overcomes the outbreak as soon as possible so medical professionals can get back to work.
While she is enjoying spending time with her family at home, she said there was an air of uncertainty among the medical community over the latest outbreak.
“There’s a level of anxiety because of the pandemic, the exposure and the new situation so it’s not as enjoyable as you might think with home quarantine,” Dr Hansen said.
“Delta breaks all the rules, it’s so transmissible between people and the contact can be so brief, everyone is at risk out in the community.”
Dr Hansen said social distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing is more important than ever.
Infectious in the community
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she understands quarantining can be frustrating but it was necessary to get past the current outbreak.
Her benchmark for lifting the lockdown on Sunday is that no new cases have been infectious in the community.
“On Sunday, we will want to have seen that any new cases that have been coming up have been in quarantine for their full infectious period,” Dr Young said.
Thus far, some cases have been infectious in the community for up to six days.
“It’s too early to expect all of these people have been in quarantine.
“Someone who’s been in quarantine for their full infectious period doesn’t concern me. It’s people who have been out and about, so there are more exposure sites.”
Children are ‘superspreaders’
Ophthalmologist Juanita Pappalardo and her husband, plastic surgeon Matthew Peters, are also in home quarantine.
Two of their four children go to schools that have recently recorded coronavirus cases — Brisbane Boys Grammar and Brisbane Girls Grammar.
They were forced to cancel two weeks’ worth of surgeries.
“It is a huge conundrum because we want to be able to take care of our patients who rely on us. But at the same time I think, as medical professionals, we’re very well placed to understand the gravity of the situation,” Dr Pappalardo said.
“Obviously, being in isolation to protect the community is far more important at this point in time.”
Dr Peters said the Delta strain’s transmissibility between children was a cause for concern for the family.
“I am very worried, to be honest. Sounds as if the Delta outbreak is impacting children more than any other previous outbreak, and they haven’t been able to get vaccinated, so I’m concerned for their health,” he said.
Dr Pappalardo said children could be considered “superspreaders”.
“Because they’re in a school environment where they haven’t been wearing masks and there’s a very high proportion of the school population that are not vaccinated,” she said.
“That, combined with the increased contagiousness of Delta, plus the more severe disease that we are starting to see in children overseas where this outbreak has been going on for some time.”