NSW authorities have strongly urged anyone who is experiencing breathlessness, chest pain or dizziness to call an ambulance, after a young mother with COVID-19 died at home in western Sydney on Monday.
Chief health officer Kerry Chant said there was no time to waste at the onset of severe coronavirus symptoms.
“Please do not delay care because we do not want to see consequences from delayed care,” Dr Chant said.
Sydney lung specialist Dr Lucy Morgan added to the call, giving a harrowing explanation of how quickly the virus can progress and what to be aware of.
“If you have COVID-19 and you feel breathless, you have trouble breathing and you are feeling dizzy, you need to call an ambulance,” Dr Morgan said on Wednesday.
“Don’t ring up and make a GP appointment, call an ambulance because these other sorts of symptoms and signs tell me that the COVID-19 illness is progressing and progressing quickly.
“An ambulance is free, your medical care will be free, there will be people who can care for you even if English is not your first language.”
Emergency ambulance callouts normally cost more than $400 without insurance in NSW, but health authorities have confirmed COVID patients are not being charged.
Dr Morgan outlined the next gruelling steps as virus patients deteriorate.
Patients get “increasingly restless” and need further medical intervention as their oxygen levels drop. If necessary a ventilator will “to do the breathing for them”, she said.
“That’s the point at which someone who is in a hospital having care for COVID-19 may require intensive care therapy … a machine to do the reading for you, a machine to possibly support the blood and do the work of organs in your body.”
The warning from senior health authorities comes after 30-year-old mother-of-three Ianeta Baker Isaako was confirmed as the youngest woman to die yet in the pandemic in NSW.
Dr Chant said Mrs Isaako had been offered special virus accommodation before she died at home in Emerton in western Sydney on Monday.
She had tested positive for the virus just a few days before and her condition quickly deteriorated. Her death is being investigated by the coroner.
- Related: NSW mourns young mum Ianeta Isaako
Her husband is among hundreds of people fighting the virus in hospital, with virus admissions to NSW hospitals leaping by nearly 50 per cent in a week.
It came as case numbers also steadily increased, hitting a record 919 community infections on Wednesday.
ICU numbers have also jumped, with 36 more patients requiring intensive care and 15 more requiring ventilation since the same time last week.
There was one more death confirmed on Wednesday, a man in his 80s. The toll in NSW from the current outbreak is 76.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state’s health system was feeling the impact of the growing caseload, but everyone who needed medical attention would receive it.
“There’s no doubt that parts of the hospital network are under severe pressure,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“When … 80 per cent of cases are coming out of the same region, that will put pressure on the hospital.”
Late on Wednesday afternoon, ABC was reporting Blacktown Hospital had joined Westmead in putting a pause on COVID patients.
Westmead Hospital, in the virus hotspot of Sydney’s west, declared a “yellow emergency” on Tuesday due to an overwhelming number of COVID patients.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the hospital took 280 virus patients by ambulance last week.
“I’m confident that we have maybe a system that is under pressure but a system that works,” Mr Hazzard said.
Dr Chant said there was no need for field hospitals to treat COVID patients. Private hospitals will also be used in NSW if needed.
She also again urged residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as it offered the best defence against the virus.
“Don’t waste this opportunity,” Dr Chant said.
It was a message also drilled home by Dr Morgan.
“Anything that we can do to reduce the severity of the illness and reduce the need into intensive care is very, very important,” she said.
“Getting vaccinated is clearly something that we can do to reduce this severe illness.”
Record COVID-19 cases in western NSW
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the NSW crisis cabinet would meet to decide whether to extend the lockdown of country areas as case numbers surge.
COVID infections in western NSW hit a record on Wednesday, at 49.
There were also 71 new cases in the Nepean Blue Mountains, seven in the far west, eight in the Illawarra Shoalhaven, four in the Hunter New England and one in the Central Coast.
Greater Sydney will remain in lockdown until at least September 30, but restrictions are set to ease in regional NSW on Saturday.
“We haven’t made any decision around extension of these restrictions of lockdown for regional NSW but as you can see in the numbers – the central west isn’t getting better, the far west, Hunter and New England – even though under control still has cases,” Mr Barilaro said.
He said the decision would be based on advice from Dr Chant and would be made “sooner rather than later”.
“The reality is, it is about protecting lives and making sure we don’t lose control in regional and rural NSW.”