COVID is again on the rise across Ballarat as an "exponential increase" in the number of cases indicates the eighth wave of the virus sweeping across Australia has reached the city.
Grampians Health public health specialist and chief strategy and regions officer Dr Rob Grenfell said while official figures no longer offered a complete snapshot of how many COVID cases were in the community, testing around Grampians Health's aged care facilities and Ballarat hospital was a good indicator.
"We have seen an exponential increase ... and what that means is we have substantial pressure in the hospital because of the number of people with COVID getting quite ill and needing to be admitted, and staff members coming down with it so they can't work," Dr Grenfell said.
"It's a timely reminder the pandemic hasn't finished yet, which means that now is the time to do what we know we should - if you are sick, test, stay home until you're well and if you're going into a crowded space and don't want to catch COVID, wear a mask."
Dr Grenfell said most Grampians Health aged care facilities were "wrestling with outbreaks" but was confident they would soon be controlled.
Across the state, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 increased this week to a daily average of 270, up from 233 last week and the highest reported since mid-June.
There have been 109 deaths in the past 28 days.
St John of God Ballarat hospital acting chief executive Maureen Waddington said there continued to be some COVID positive patients at the hospital but there were no significant outbreaks within the hospital.
"Most of these patients are admitted via our emergency department with COVID-related illnesses," Ms Waddington said.
She said a small number of nursing staff in the oncology department contracted COVID several weeks ago but it did not disrupt normal operations.
Dr Grenfell said mask requirements in the hospital and aged care had been reinstated.
This week patients at the hospital have been COVID tested across all wards to ensure there are no unknown cases.
"We've got people in hospital as a result of COVID, and people coming in with something else who test positive to COVID," Dr Grenfell said.
Waste water testing shows the Omicron EG.5 variant, known as Eris, is the dominant COVID infection responsible for this latest wave.
Dr Grenfell said that was actually good news.
"If there's anything good about COVID it's the fact that it's pumping out sub-variants of Omicron which means our antivirals and vaccinations have an impact on it," he said.
"Fingers crossed we don't see a different strain any time soon."
He urged anyone aged over 75 or with a significant medical condition to make sure they have a COVID booster each six months, and anyone over 70 or with a significant medical condition should talk to their doctor about antivirals before they get sick.
"If you are positive for COVID and qualify for antivirals you need to start them as early as possible - they seriously decrease the severity of the disease which can be life saving," Dr Grenfell said.
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