AN excellent response by the public has meant far fewer people have gotten sick and died over the last few months but it is not time to let down the guard.
That’s the view of Maria Bridgeman, Chief Officer of HSE Mid West Community Healthcare. “The big message now is please, please hold firm. I will be working with my colleagues in the local authority and the gardaí in relation to this message. The long weekend is coming and people often head away or to the beach but we are asking people to hold firm and stick with the guidance.
“Everyone needs to look out for each other and continue the measures. These sacrifices that people are making, while I absolutely know they are difficult, is what has got us to this point. We want to get this country restarted but it can only be done in a slow, managed and safe way.”
She agreed that the predictions being made earlier this year for huge numbers of deaths haven’t been borne out and she says that the general public deserve the credit for Ireland not going the way of Northern Italy or Spain. “Yes, certainly, if you go back to the initial weeks of this, the modelling was that we would have quite a significant number of Covid positive people across the country and, in particular, in the Mid-West. Thankfully, that
didn’t transpire as expected and that’s absolutely due to the population of the Mid-West responding to all the requests and adhering to the guidance given to them.
“There is no doubt that people adhered to it and significantly reduced the impact and the number of positive cases around the Mid-West; there is absolutely no doubt about that.”
She reiterated that painful measures have been very effective. “It’s really important for all of us not to lose sight of it. It’s due to the measures that have been taken by people across all areas and workplaces that it hasn’t transpired the way it was expected. I want to acknowledge that it has not been easy in any shape or form.
“There has been a huge impact for the economy but at the end of the day, far less people contracted the virus and fewer people died from it. We have had people who did contract it and we’ve had deaths but at the end of the day, we need to acknowledge it could have been very much worse.”
Ms Bridgeman was only in her current role for a few months when a once-in-a-lifetime crisis struck. “I’m in the job since September and not in my wildest dreams did I think I would be presiding over such a pandemic. This has been difficult on the people in our communities; there’s no doubt about that. This has been hugely difficult for all of the people in our residential units, whether they be older people, mental health or disability units. It has been hugely difficult for them and their families. There is no doubt in the wide earthly world that it has been a hugely challenging time for all healthcare professionals, whether it be those directly on the frontline giving the care to residents and to people in communities.
“It has also been really stressful for those people working behind the scenes, keeping everything going and making it happen.”
Anecdotally, there seems to be some evidence of a softening in how seriously the public are taking the advice provided and she said that is a concern. “It has been very challenging and difficult for people to adhere to the guidelines and the social distancing over a long number of weeks. While there has been somewhat of an ease on that, it would certainly be worrying for me as the person in charge of all the community services, which are very wide ranging.
“The message I would like to give to everyone is that social and physical distancing is still absolutely critical. The social distancing remains 2m apart and while people can gather, it’s to a maximum of four people and anything above that is a huge cause of concern.
“It is really important as we start to revert to some type of normal business that these measures be adhered to; it’s really, really important.
“Also, I can’t overemphasise the importance of washing our hands and drying them properly. Washing hands is hugely, hugely important. Washing them with soap and water is critical at this point, as more of us go out and about.”
The possibility of a dreaded second wave is very real, she warns. “I think that is a very real danger; it would be wrong of any of us to say otherwise. I think that’s why the Government are being so careful. While they have eased some of the measures, they are watching the trends and if we still don’t maintain what they are asking us to do, we will get another surge. This is around for the foreseeable future. It’s an invisible virus and it’s important we all keep our focus on keeping it at bay.”
There is also a possibility of a stern test next winter, when the flu will also be making its presence known. “I think there will be peaks and troughs. In the winter, we were always challenged with dealing with the flu and if we get the combination of flu and Covid, it would certainly be a challenge to respond appropriately while adhering to the guidance given to us.
“But look, the most important thing is we had contingency plans for Covid and we’re working very hard preparing for the winter and having plans for that. I’d like to give people assurance that we will do everything we can to respond in the winter in the best way to look after the needs of the people we look after. We’re working on that already.”
Ms Bridgeman paid tribute to the work done by HSE employees in fighting the virus, while also acknowledging the gardaí and local authority workers. “There have been long days and long hours to keep the wheels rolling. Also, our colleagues in the gardaí and the local authorities have been a huge support to us. We have some people deployed from the local authorities working in our services and they have added hugely to what we’ve been able to achieve.
“The word ‘team’ really comes to mind, an integrated way of working and all supporting each other has really helped us all through this pandemic,” she concluded.