A Crookwell doctor is on a mission to mask up her NSW regional town to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before cases spike.
Dr Johanna Kovats has started the Mask Up Crookwell campaign with the support of the town’s four other doctors.
They want everyone to consider wearing a face mask in the same way people practice hand washing, social distancing and self-isolating when necessary.
“We need as many people wearing a mask as we can to cut down on airborne transmission,” said Dr Kovats. “The reality is, this is the new norm and we want to stop the disease from getting into the town before it is too late.”
She added that regional communities should not be complacent.
“People think it is not going to happen to them and, on farms, people feel they are relatively isolated from the rest of the world,” said Dr Kovats. “But in Crookwell, we get a lot of people passing through to get to Wyangala Dam and Bathurst. People coming from elsewhere could be coming from a [COVID-19] hotspot and not have been tested.”
On 2 August, the NSW Government recommended the use of masks in high-risk public settings such as public transport, hospitality venues, places of worship and supermarkets.
Dr Kovats met with representatives from Crookwell’s supermarket, pharmacies and Upper Lachlan Shire Council to see if they will jump onboard with the campaign.
Crookwell IGA co-owner Floyd Davies said his staff have been given the option of wearing disposable masks and that he is waiting on an order of reusable cloth masks, placed three weeks ago. The supermarket also has masks for sale to the public.
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“We are strongly recommending that people wear masks to try and join the doctors and make Crookwell a safe place,” said Mr Davies. “While we are not enforcing that people wear masks, we have found the majority of our staff are keen and more and more people in Crookwell are now wearing them. The staff who choose not to wear masks have a good reason.”
Harts Pharmacy owner Ken Wicks said it is important the Crookwell community remains vigilant when it comes to maintaining hygiene practices.
“I think it is important we do not relax,” he said. “We have seen what has happened in Victoria and, so far, country NSW has been fortunate, but let us not rest on our laurels.”
Homemade masks and cloth masks provide some protection, however people should know that the level of protection differs between masks, said Dr Kovats.
“Any covering will help, but people should know the difference and how to apply one correctly. There is the N95 paper mask; P2 square mask that most people seem to be wearing; masks people are making; and the more rectangular ones that can be made of three layers and washable, or two layers with a paper insert.
“Beards can also be a problem with masks because they can cause it to slide up and down. Those with beards should apply a large, square mask that can be pulled underneath the chin.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends if people are making a mask, they should select a fabric with a high thread count and fine weave that is water resistant, and use a minimum of two to three layers.
Cloth masks can be used more than once, but should be washed daily with soap and water.
When putting on a mask, people should wash their hands and avoid touching its outer layer during use. When taking off a mask, people should wash their hands again, avoid touching its outer surface, place the mask in a plastic zipper-sealed bag until it can be decontaminated, and wash their hands again.
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Crookwell Hospital has started a free drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic every Tuesday from 8 am to 4.30 pm. The first clinic was on 4 August.
The hospital’s senior nurse manager, Debbie Hay, said it is important everyone does their part to stop the spread.
“By having a clinic regularly, we hope to encourage more people with even the mildest symptoms to get tested,” she said.
On 4 August, there had been only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Upper Lachlan Shire Council area, but that could change at any time, said Dr Kovats.
She also recommended people get the flu vaccine and not avoid going to the doctor for other medical issues.
Dr Kovats said some patients had not been to see their doctor for important check-ups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People have been avoiding diabetes and blood pressure tests, as examples, because they are worried about catching the virus, but the reality is the practice is safer than the gas station or supermarket,” she said.
Staff at Dr Kovats’s Crookwell practice, The Health Care Centre, have been wearing masks since March and directing patients to different areas of the practice depending on their risk.