SIXTY-six people have been identified as compromised and directed to self-isolate after the first COVID-19 (coronavirus) case in Port Macquarie was confirmed.
A 14-year-old student from St Columba Anglican School, who has not travelled overseas, has contracted the virus.
School principal Terry Muldoon immediately put a plan into action, notifying families on Thursday (March 19) evening and shutting the school down from Friday morning.
He met with health officials on Friday morning to determine a course of action. It is hoped the school will re-open early next week.
Mr Muldoon has reassured the school will only open to the community if it has passed all the appropriate health checks.
NSW Health officials confirmed the girl self-isolated quickly when she first displayed symptoms.
It is the first identified case in the Hastings. But it won't the the last, NSW Health has said.
The message is to stay calm and take precautions. Social distancing and hand-washing is a priority for all residents.
Mid North Coast Local Health District chief executive Stewart Dowrick said they are working with the North Coast Public Health team, the family and the school. All 66 people identified will self-isolate for 14 days from the last point of contact with the student.
They will receive ongoing health district support. No-one is requiring hospital treatment or admission.
"Those who are in self-isolation are those who have made the initial contact (with this student). They are the people we have identified as being in the key risk area at the moment, so they will be at home in self-isolation," Mr Dowrick said.
Mr Dowrick said there are no predictions as to how widespread the virus may become in the community. It is about management and mitigation.
"Our most important thing is to contain what's in front of us. We are working very hard to do that and I guess the entire nation is doing that as well," he said.
"We knew there was going to be cases on the Mid-North Coast. There will be more. We just have to work with the community and as a region to do this calmly and sensibly."
A COVID-19 testing clinic became operational on March 20 and has already tested 35 people. Mr Dowrick expects that number will continue to steadily increase.
The clinic at Port Macquarie Base Hospital is open between 10am and 4pm and is designed to test people who have identified symptoms including a fever, or an acute respiratory illness, those who have been overseas and for health staff.
Clinics will open in Kempsey and Coffs Harbour early next week.
"We do not expect everyone to go through that clinic though. If you feel unwell, stay home," Mr Dowrick said.
Anyone who is healthy and does not have an acute respiratory condition, but tests positive for the virus, is directed to self-isolate for 14 days as a standard procedure to manage and contain its spread.
We've been planning for this for some time. We are trained for this. Our job is to look after our community the best we can.Mid North Coast Local Health District chief executive Stewart Dowrick
North Coast Public Health acting director Dr Jane Jelfs said all contacts who have been identified in this case have been assessed based on the time they have spent with the student and health officials will be remaining in contact with them throughout the self-isolation period.
"At this stage of the COVID-19 action we are trying to stop the first early ripple. Stop that first early contact," Dr Jelfs said.
"We do have to treat this person as a known case and put into action all of our steps. We've had testing ongoing in our community for various people. We've had people return from overseas who have been tested, people who have been in very close contact with people on a plane for up to 14 hours - no-one has tested positive as yet. This is our first case."
One of the challenges for us has been the "worried-well". They are the people who are anxious and they want a 'just in case' test. That's very hard to deflect because they're concerned. But we keep saying - if you are well, you do not need to be tested.Dr Jane Jelfs, North Coast Public Health
Dr Jelfs said the Health District is well-prepared and staff have undertaken pandemic training.
"One of the challenges for us has been the "worried-well". They are the people who are anxious and they want a 'just in case' test. That's very hard to deflect because they're concerned. But we keep saying - if you are well, you do not need to be tested."
As we head into flu season, the message is loud and clear.
"Get your flu shot, wash your hands and be calm and sensible about your health," Mr Dowrick said.
"If you are not well, stay home. Look after your colleagues and friends around you. A really strong sense of community is important.
"We've been planning for this for some time. We are trained for this. Our job is to look after our community the best we can."
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