Drive-through testing launched, more ventilators ordered as hospital ramps up COVID-19 measures

REGIONAL public health officials have called on the community not to “panic” following the first confirmed coronavirus case in Mount Gambier.

A 68-year-old man is self-isolating at home after being confirmed with the potentially deadly disease today.

It is understood the man – who had a temperature and some coughing – returned home after travelling and was officially diagnosed this morning at 10am.

At a press conference earlier today, health officials revealed the man had been in the Blue Lake city for 48 hours at the time of the positive result.

While details of his travel movements were not released, the Mount Gambier resident was not seriously unwell.

Hospital Pic Temp Checking20200324 TBW Newsgroup
COVID-19 ALERT: Health professional Helma Amorosa yesterday checks the temperature of a staff member before they can enter the Mount Gambier Hospital.

Health officials have warned regional COVID-19 cases could rise “significantly” given statewide numbers continue to spike.

Although there is no evidence of any spread of the deadly virus in the Limestone Coast, hospitals authorities are gearing up for a possible “influx” of COVID-19 patients.

South Australia recorded 36 new COVID-19 cases today, the state’s biggest so far, taking the total to 170.

The region’s first case coincided with opening of a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at the Mount Gambier Hospital site, which is located on the left hand side of the emergency department via the Wehl Street entrance.

People will need a GP referral to get tested at the clinic, which will be open from noon to 8pm.

First COVID-19 patient facts:

– Patient aged 68
– Mount Gambier resident
– Contraction travel related
– Was in Mount Gambier for 48 hours
– Self-isolating at home
– No evidence of community spread
– Not seriously unwell


Limestone Coast Local Health Network executive director of medical services Dr Elaine Pretorius praised the man – who tested positive for COVID-19 – for safeguarding the community by self-isolating at home.

“The person is fine. They have a temperature, coughing a little bit but otherwise well,” Dr Pretorius said.

“The good thing is this was associated with travel and is not community acquired. There is no evidence of community spread within the Limestone Coast.”

She said she was not “at all concerned” the man had been in contact with others given he acted “sensibly”.

Dr Pretorius warned Australia had not “flattened” the rising COVID-19 curve and the Limestone Coast was at “significant risk” of more cases.

“In fact the incidence (in Australia) is doubling every three days.”

She said Limestone Coast LHN had made “many changes” within hospital settings, including screening at entrances.

While it was possible there were asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers in the community, Dr Pretorius said she believed they would be “very few and far between”.

“But we do not know and we do not want to be someone who infects other people.”

Dr Pretorius, Pam Schubert And Paul Bullen TBW Newsgroup
ON THE FRONTLINE: Mount Gambier Hospital’s Dr Elaine Pretorius, Pam Schubert and Paul Bullen stand united outside the health facility.


Mount Gambier Hospital has swiftly set up a makeshift incident management control room in response to COVID-19.

“What we do here is the clinical planning as well as operations planning about how we are moving our beds, staff and screening over the next few months,” Dr Pretorius explained.

The hospital’s infection control nurse is also based in the control incident room to roll out a step-by-step approach as the health facility “intensifies” the management of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Revealing COVID-19 tests were sent to Adelaide, Dr Pretorius also aired concerns over the looming closure of Regional Express flights in and out of Mount Gambier.

“We do have some concerns, but fortunately we do use TOLL. SA Pathology is also exploring road transfer and of course we have raised the issue of Rex.”

The medical chief said current policy dictated all COVID-19 patients who were seriously unwell would be transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, which was a dedicated COVID-19 facility.

The state’s communicable diseases branch will determine if patients require admission.

“There will be some patients who will have symptoms of flu and need to self-isolate, but there will be people who are unwell and will require care and will be transferred to Adelaide,” the medical professional said.

Patients moderately unwell will be conveyed to Mount Gambier Hospital.


Mount Gambier Hospital has revealed it has two ventilators in the high dependency unit and some in its theatres.

Dr Pretorius said an additional two ventilators had been ordered and would arrive within days.

“Given we have now seen our first presentation, there will be an impetus to get all of our new equipment on site.”

The hospital has also requested additional video-conferencing capabilities.

Regarding whether there would be a boost in medical staff, Dr Pretorius conceded this was a challenge.

“We will not have any additional staff at the moment, but we are having a look at our skill mix and to see if there are people in the community or working elsewhere we can pull in to support our high dependency and intensive care unit.”

Infectious Control Nurse TBW Newsgroup
COVID-19 RESPONSE: Infection prevention and control nurse consultant Nicole Vause. Pictures: SANDRA MORELLO


Dr Pretorius has called on people to stay home and restrict their public outings.

The health professional warned Australians were “too complacent” over the threat of COVID-19.

“I was very unhappy when I saw that picture of Bondi Beach.”

Statistics suggest one person with COVID-19 affects three others.

“If those three others affect three others and we replicate that by 10 times, 590,000 people will be affected.”

She said this was why it was so important for residents to stay at home.

Asked if residents should go to shopping centres, Dr Pretorius urged people to only go out for essentials such as milk and bread.

“We need to keep 1.5 metres away from people, stay away from neighbours, wipe down your car, wipe down trolleys before you use them and we should stay home.”

She warned the virus remained alive on shiny surfaces for some time.

COVID -19 Limestone Coast health care update

– All testing sent to Adelaide by plane
– All seriously unwell patients sent to Adelaide
– Two additional ventilators ordered
– Health authorities urge people to stay at home
– Drive-through testing clinic opens at Mount Gambier Hospital
– Up to 20 COVID-19 tests conducted every day
– More than 100 over past 10 days

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