HOSPITAL staff are still largely wearing full personal protective equipment, a requirement becoming increasingly uncomfortable as Ballarat weather starts to heat up.
A fortnight ago, Ballarat Health Services' rapid response testing team was kit-out in full PPE with the mercury nearing 40C to screen truck drivers in Nhill and Edenhope crossing back from the South Australian border.
Ballarat is one day away from notching up 100 days without a new COVID-19 case in the community. This is more than three times the Victorian milestone which last week, at day-28, technically meant the deadly virus had been eradicated from the state.
The city's leading health experts warn complacency, fuelled by a false sense of security, was Ballarat and Victoria's biggest threat now.
BHS chief Dale Fraser, Ballarat Community Health chief Sean Duffy and UFS chief Lynne McLennan say 100 days without any new infections in the City of Ballarat is a significant milestone - particularly given the proximity to Melbourne on the other side of Bacchus Marsh.
All it can take is one case to bob up again.
We got to this point through hard work...Now is the time to reflect and celebrate but keep building these things into normality - washing hands, testing when needed - because COVID is always in the background as a concern.Dale Fraser. Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer
"My message is simple," Mr Fraser said. "We got to this point through hard work, we got tested when we needed to with a cough or cold, and we didn't go out. The community did phenomenally well to stay in lockdown at stage three when we're pretty close to the epicentre of where it was really going on.
"Now is the time to reflect and celebrate but keep building these things into normality - washing hands, testing when needed - because COVID is always in the background as a concern.
"There is the potential for a summer return. We're about to bring more folk home from overseas. If it comes back in our community, we need to be responsible."
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A total of 57 COVID-19 cases were attributed to City of Ballarat out of a state total 20,345 confirmed cases.
Mr Fraser said regional Victoria's advantage was in local experts in tracing and clinical care. He praised Ballarat's community attitude for minimal fuss and getting on with what was needed and this was why outbreaks like the La Trobe Street butcher and bakery were quickly contained.
A failed temperature test at the door raised the warning for an asymptomatic staff member at Bill Crawford Lodge. Mr Fraser said staff at the aged care facility's diligence in testing, isolation and infection control were vital in containing the outbreak and ensuring no deaths.
Higher ratios of registered nurses and quick access to BHS' infectious disease experts was also a pivotal feature, Mr Fraser said, compared to virus outbreaks in private aged care homes. Mr Fraser said there was already a noted shift in families' priorities in care for health concerns offered in the state's public system over nice facilities and meals.
Ballarat Community Health has been able to continue delivering in primary care, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, and some chronic disease services. BCH has also stepped up to run a pop-up testing site in central Ballarat during the pandemic's height.
Mr Duffy said much in health was measured in outcomes and the outcome was Ballarat had done exceptionally well. So far.
"It does breed a level of complacency," Mr Duffy said.
"One hundred days is brilliant. We can all go back to the gym and community events but we need to remain cautiously optimistic.
"The levels of anxiety have continually reduced but we have to maintain our efforts. I think we can relax cautiously - that will stand us in good stead."
Free COVID-19 testing remains open, by appointment, every day at the UFS-led fever clinic in Lucas Community Hub.
Ms McLennan said 100 days since the last positive test result was due to the responsible attitudes from most residents. This included consistently strong numbers of people presenting for tests.
"However until there is a widely available vaccine against the virus, continued vigilance is essential; wash hands, maintain your distance and get tested if you have symptoms," Ms McLennan said.
"The current South Australian cluster has shown how easily the virus can re-surface if even one or two people don't follow health department and medical advice."
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