''We are here for you, stay home for us'' is the urgent plea from Wollongong Hospital workers as the COVID-19 threat intensifies.
The number of confirmed cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District had risen to 85 by 7.30am on Monday morning. Of these cases, 10 patients are being cared for in Wollongong Hospital and one patient in Shoalhaven Hospital.
Just over half the cases are men (44) and the highest number of cases are in the 60 to 69, and 70 to 79 age groups, with 18 in each.
Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts are either being treated in hospital or are in self-isolation.
Meantime on Monday morning, Wollongong Hospital staff begged people to stay at home, while ISLHD emergency nurse consultant Professor Kate Curtis urged everyone to "save the emergency department for emergencies".
This would reduce strain on staff and services in the ED, and in the hospital's dedicated COVID-19 wards and intensive care unit.
"Frontline clinicians are very conscious of trying to flatten the curve and reduce the transmission of COVID-19," Prof Curtis said. "One of the ways you do that is stay home unless you absolutely can't.
"We want to share that message and demonstrate that if you stay at home, you're actually freeing healthcare workers up to care for people who are critically unwell.
"You're also helping to reduce the number of people getting COVID-19, who may need lifesaving treatment. That helps ensure we have enough equipment and staff to care for these patients.
"We don't want to get to the situation which New York, Spain, Italy and the Philippines are in."
Prof Curtis said keeping frontline healthcare workers safe was one of the top priorities for the health district.
"In order to do this we have a pretty intense education program going on, plus systems in place so workers know when to use certain sorts of protective equipment," she said.
"The health district is working with authorities at a state and national level to ensure enough stock keeps coming as we need it."
There's been reports of theft of items like hand sanitiser and masks at hospitals across the state - including in the Illawarra - but Prof Curtis said stock was sufficient for now.
"Frontline clinicians are an amazing bunch of people who are selfless - they're also incredibly sensible and pragmatic and are taking the precautions they need so they can provide the care they need to," she said.
"We're very conscious that doctors and nurses have died from this in other countries, and we do not want that to happen here so are taking a number of stringent measures."
This included keeping health workers families safe, by ensuring staff left scrubs and work shoes at work. And local hospitals have also reduced visitation - and banned any visitors to COVID-19 wards or intensive care units.
Prof Curtis said most community members were complying with new rules, and government health advice around COVID-19.
"COVID-19 assessment clinics at Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven hospitals are being used well by the public which we're very grateful for," she said.
"However there's still a portion of the population who seem to think they won't get sick - they're the ones putting everyone at risk."
Prof Curtis said those who fit the criteria should contact the clinics for an appointment.
Criteria includes those who've returned from overseas in the last 14 days and showing acute respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and sore throat.
It also includes those who've had close contact with a person with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
Other people with symptoms should call their GP or the COVID-19 hotline (1800 020 080).
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