While many across the region are quite happy to put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, it seems the virus isn't quite finished with us yet as Australia enters its eighth wave of infections.
Hunter New England Local Health District Public Health Controller, Dr Dave Durrheim, told the Leader that even though testing data is no longer available, other metrics "clearly indicate" COVID is on the rise.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing an uptick in COVID hospitalisations and also in the number of aged care facilities with COVID outbreaks," Dr Durrheim said.
"In the past week we're seeing in-patients in Hunter New England hospitals in the high 40s each day with confirmed COVID cases, and 10 aged care facilities with outbreaks across the Hunter New England area."
In addition to hospitals and aged care facilities, local schools such as Oxley High have also noted an uptick in cases, sending a warning text message to parents to watch for symptoms in their children.
Dr Durrheim said the wave is being driven by COVID-19 variant EG5.1, an offshoot of the omicron strain online communities often refer to as 'Eris,' and that the incoming wave is a "good prompt" for anyone who hasn't had a COVID vaccination in the last six months to consider getting a booster dose.
"Particularly for older people, anybody with chronic underlying diseases, I strongly recommend they consider getting a booster dose now to protect themselves against the wave," Dr Durrheim said.
The public health controller also said people who suspect they may have the virus should minimise contact with other people and avoid areas with vulnerable populations.
"Anybody who is symptomatic please don't take it into high-risk settings like aged care, hospitals, or any places with older people. If you've got symptoms, stay home. Don't spread it around," Dr Durrheim said.
In NSW, only about 12 per cent of the population has had a booster shot in the last six months, according to data from the Australian Immunisation Register.
Nationwide, 32.6 per cent of people over the age of 75 have had a six-month booster, and that number falls to 24.7 per cent for people between 65-75.
Dr Durrheim said if hospitalisations and outbreaks continue to climb, it might be an idea to start wearing masks again.
"If this wave continues to grow, there may be value, at least in crowded indoor spaces, to again wear a mask. We're not at that stage yet, but people who are more vulnerable and want to protect themselves further could wear a mask in crowded and indoor environments," he said.
"It's very difficult to be certain because the gap between this wave and the previous one has been longer than we've seen ... the modellers with the limited data available believe it will probably peak sometime between the middle of December and Christmas, unfortunately," he said.
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