As the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to claim lives in nursing homes across Ireland, especially in the east of the country, local GPs in Fermoy and Mitchelstown have moved to reassure people that as many precautions as possible are being taken in nursing homes in this area.

GPs have been working together to put strategies in place for local nursing homes and to liaise with management of homes in Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Conna.

Even though patients in nursing homes will continue to be looked after by their own GP, there will now be one dedicated GP to each nursing home who will have an overview of the situation on the ground and who will support the director of nursing.

‘Cannot be complacent’

Dr Barry O’Sullivan, a GP with the Family First Medical Practice in Fermoy, said everyone needs to be on guard to protect nursing homes and community hospitals.

“This virus has made its way into 150 nursing homes in the country and there have been at least 167 deaths from a nursing home environment. Its imperative for elderly residents, but also the wider community, that this virus does not get into nursing homes, or indeed community hospitals. We cannot be complacent. We do not want to see the tragic situation unfolding in the east of the country happening in our area too.”

GPs also want people to understand that an outbreak in a nursing home, or similar setting, can have a wider impact in a local community.

“There will be healthcare workers, administrative staff, cleaners, kitchen staff, delivery drivers – all these people coming and going from nursing homes each day. They connect the community with the nursing home. So, we have to think of them and their families and the possibility that if we, as a society, become complacent the virus could be passed to any of them and brought into the nursing home. Similarly, we don’t want them to take the virus from the nursing home and spread in society. When we say we are all in this together, we literally mean we are ALL in this together,” added Dr O’Sullivan.

Virus travels easily

At the time of going to print there are 730 known cases of Covid-19 in Cork. This figure relates only to those who have been tested and its believed there will be many more positive cases including those who haven’t been tested, those who have and are awaiting test results and those who are asymptomatic and do not know they have the virus.

“Its very important that people understand that in the context of this virus places like Mitchelstown and Fermoy are not remote,” said Dr Catherine Clifford of the Park Clinic in Fermoy.

She continued: “Both towns are just off the country’s busiest motorway which connects the two counties with the highest number of Covid-19 cases. There will be essential workers, including delivery drivers, health workers, engineers and technicians coming off the motorway and into our areas because they must. Similarly, essential workers living in our areas will be travelling to carry out their duties elsewhere. Some people might think we can avoid the pandemic here – but the virus travels very easily and to tragic consequence.”

Danger of complacency

While GPs in the area believe most people have acted excellently during the Covid-19 crisis to date, they are worried that some are not practicing social distancing as strictly as theY were at the start of the pandemic – and have warned against complacency.

Also, they emphasis the importance of washing hands before leaving the house, on returning to the house and to avoid touching surfaces outside of the home which may be contaminated with the virus.

“Its unknown how long the virus can last on a surface or item, like a piece of shopping, but the best approach is to wash your hands after handling shopping and, in particular, before you touch your face. The virus cannot enter the body through your skin, but your hands can transfer it into your body by touching your mouth, nose or eyes. This is why washing your hands is always best defence,” said Dr Elma Gaffney of the LivingHealth Clinic in Mitchelstown.

Looking after mind & body

With the Taoiseach and National Public Health Emergency Team warning that the coming weeks could be especially grim, GPs want people to look after their mental health as well as their physical health.

“We’ve seen the number of fatalities from Covid-19 growing at a steady rate in recent days. That trend is likely to continue. And it can all be vey difficult for people to digest – especially for those aged 70 and over who have been cocooning now for many weeks,” said Dr Elaine Lee Murphy in Mitchelstown.

She said: “It’s so important that we all take time away from thinking about Covid-19. Even if you’re cocooning, try to step out into your back garden, feel the sun on your face and find safe ways to exercise and distract yourself. Find what works for you, for some it will be music, for others exercise or gardening and for some mindfulness or yoga. Remember, this is a temporary measure and will come to an end. And your supports are still there for you, your community, your doctors, your counselling services and the community mental health team for those who need it. Its so important we look after the mind as well as the body.”

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The GP group in Fermoy and Mitchelstown will provide weekly updates in The Avondhu on Covid-19/coronavirus advice, specific to your local area.