It’s the question everyone is asking at the moment ‘should we wear face masks or not?’ And for many the guidance has been confusing.

But GPs in the Fermoy and Mitchelstown area this week sought to bring reassurance by recommending the use of cloth masks or face coverings when in supermarkets, shops, pharmacies or other indoor settings.

“This week the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan and Minister for Health, Simon Harris both strongly encouraged the public to wear cloth masks when in public places where it might be hard to keep a two-metre distance from others,” explained Dr Joe Moran of Fermoy.

He continued: “While most supermarkets are currently less crowded than they would have been before March we need to consider all the available tools we have to avoid a second wave of Covid-19.

“The advice on masks has changed from ‘no’ at the start of the pandemic – mainly to ensure there was supply of medical masks for healthcare settings, to ‘maybe’ – because there was concern that people would lose focus on two-metre distancing, but cloth face masks or coverings are now clearly recommended as an effective measure.”

And Dr Moran said that wearing a mask will become more common and so feel less unusual for many.

“Masks are culturally unfamiliar to us but as shops become busier and public transport resumes normal timetables, we each need to consider wearing a mask in these situations as an important measure to protect others, though of course it remains a personal choice rather than a mandatory requirement.”

As the rate of new Covid-19 cases continues to fall for the time-being, a new normality is descending on communities such as ours.

Don’t put it off

But for GP practices it’s not a case of completely ‘back to normal’ as Dr Sura Aldeen of the Fermoy-Rathcormac Practice told The Avondhu:

“GP surgeries are getting busier as patients are coming to get their general medical needs looked after. Many have put things on hold over the past few months.

“We are having to prioritise those with the most urgent medical needs first and then work towards getting more routine checks done.

“Please be aware that all surgeries have access to doctors by phone and many issues can be dealt with over the phone.

“For each patient coming into the surgery everything takes more time due to increased cleaning and putting protective equipment on and off, so we are generally not always able to provide the same number of appointments in each day as we would previously.”

And she continued: “Cervical screening (smear tests) for women are not yet available as the programme is on hold, however we really do need to hear from women with any symptoms (see for details) as these women can be referred to the colposcopy clinic immediately.

“Similarly, we encourage anyone with any type of concerning symptoms – for example a new lump or unusual bleeding – not to delay in contacting us.

“Hospitals are increasing services week-by-week and we need to ensure that tests and treatment are accessed urgently where necessary, so talk to us and we can decide on the next step.”

While the easing of restrictions will benefit all in our society Dr Catherine Clifford, of the Park Clinic in Fermoy, feels we still need to be cautious and follow the recommended guidelines to protect ourselves and others.

She said: “We would encourage you to be very clear about how to minimise risk and then to take steps to reconnect with people in a safe way.

“Unfortunately, hugging and handshakes should still be avoided but you can go out for a cycle in a park or a walk on a beach, a change of scene is refreshing. To meet a friend in your garden while keeping a two-metre distance can be very uplifting with very little risk.

Indoor meetings are higher risk than outdoors, generally the more space the better. But if it’s raining you can safely meet indoors with a friend or two once you make sure everyone is well beforehand and that you can maintain that two-metre distance.”

SouthDoc resumption

GPs were delighted to see SouthDoc services return to the town this week having lobbied so far for their resumption.

Dr Barry O’Sullivan of the Family First Medical Practice in Fermoy said: “It’s much more convenient and safer for our patients to have Fermoy open, but now we have to ask that this service is used appropriately.

“People must be aware that they should phone SouthDoc to be given an appointment, there are no walk-in appointments. The waiting area is small so we will generally be asking people to wait in their car until they are called.

“Your own GP who knows you, and has your full medical records, will be in a better position to look after most medical issues. In SouthDoc we have no access to your own GP’s medical records, we can’t do blood tests or refer to clinics or for scans.

“The service is really intended for something that started or worsened since the daytime surgery closed and isn’t safe to wait until your own GP surgery re-opens. This means that the GP on duty can be readily available to those who really do need to be seen urgently.”

‘Great achievement’

Finally, this week local GPs wish to extend their gratitude to all the staff in local nursing homes and the Fermoy Community Hospital for their ongoing great work during the pandemic.

Dr Jack Griffin of the Livinghealth clinic in Mitchelstown, said: “While outbreaks in nursing homes were being reported throughout the country, our local nursing homes acted quickly and have maintained excellent infection control to avoid a similar scenario unfolding.

This has been a stressful time for nurses and care workers fearing for the health of those they look after, their own health and also that of their families.

On behalf of the community we need to recognise what a great achievement it was to keep all the residents safe and well.”

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Weekly updates

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