In the slow and steady return to a semi-normal life after lockdown, there are measures we can choose to keep in place to continue safeguarding our health and reduce our risk of getting sick.
For all Australians, life as we knew it was turned on its head when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the nation in February.
From mid-March, Australians were advised to practice social distancing, adopt good personal hygiene, limit non-essential trips out of the house and consider working from home where possible.
But for vulnerable people with chronic conditions like diabetes, and those who are 65 and older, the official health advice was to take precautions and self-isolate at home.
Due to the reduced risk of infection of COVID-19 and continued low number of new cases in WA, from May 18 the official advice for WA’s vulnerable members of the community was to continue taking precautions by social distancing and practising good prsonal hygiene.
But even as restrictive measures are lifted and we start to return to a semi-normal way of life, we can’t ignore the fact that, even despite a lower number of new cases, COVID-19 remains a risk, particularly given there is no vaccine.
And while some of us may decide to continue self-isolating, for those of us who are ready to resume some of the normal activities that have been off limits during the lockdown phase, we should still be approaching it with caution to ensure we stay safe and healthy in the coming months.
Here we look at the top things that people with diabetes can consider going forward.
Maintain good hygiene
One thing we’ve all learned during the COVID-19 outbreak is the importance of good personal hygiene to help reduce the spread of germs, and this is definitely something we should all continue doing long after the COVID-19 threat has passed. In line with the current advice from the WA Department of Health, this includes thoroughly washing your hands on a regular basis, especially before eating and after being in a public area; avoiding touching your face before you have washed and dried your hands; frequently disinfecting touched objects and surfaces; coughing or sneezing into your elbow or covering your mouth with a tissue; avoiding sharing food, drinks, glasses, towels etc with others. If you do decide venture out in public, be vigilant about touching surfaces such as door handles, lift buttons, elevator handles, shopping trolleys and baskets and always keep hand sanitiser with you to use during and after your outings.
Continue to follow social distancing
If you’ve decided to slowly ease your way out of self-isolation, social distancing – where we keep at least 1.5m away from others who are not in our household – has become one of the key measures to help curb the spread of the virus. The current advice in WA is that people can gather in groups of no more than 20, keeping in mind the 1.5m gap between those outside your household. Rather than return to queueing on top of one another in the future, why not continue to maintain a little personal space and social distancing between strangers when in public and wherever possible.
It’s OK to refrain from hugging or kissing loved ones
While you may be tempted to hug and kiss family members or close friends, it’s OK to refrain from getting physical with others if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Given some people with diabetes may be at higher risk of getting seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, or any illness for that matter, it is worth limiting your physical contact with others, particularly if they have recently been sick. As for the once common shaking of hands with everyone you meet, life post-COVID-19 may just be a little more accepting of a nod, friendly elbow bump or wave instead.
Stay home if you’re sick
Whether you’ve returned to work, are venturing out in public or are coming out of self-isolation, the key thing to remember is that, if you’re feeling sick – whether it’s a sore throat, a fever or cough – the official health advice to stay home. As we come into winter, the likelihood of picking up the cold or flu increases and if you happen to contract COVID-19 – which spreads through person-to-person contact – it can have serious consequences for the more vulnerable members of the community.
Have a sick day plan in place
If you’re living with diabetes and don’t already have a sick day plan – which is drawn up with the help of your GP or a Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) and outlines how you will manage your diabetes if you fall ill – now is as good a time as any to have one in place. Read more about how to prepare a sick day plan on page xx.
Have medical records and emergency contacts on hand
Do you know who you would call if you became sick? And do you have easy access to your medical records? Do you have your medications and dosages written down for quick reference in an emergency? These are the things worth considering, not just in times like these, but in any event that you become seriously ill. It’s also worth having a list of health contacts – think your GP, pharmacist, a CDE or endocrinologist – readily available should you, or someone else, need to get in touch with them while you are sick.
Help is available – even if it’s not face-to-face
Technology has been our saving grace during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to limiting our risk of exposure to the virus by avoiding face-to-face visits with health professionals. Enter telehealth, which connects the patient to health professional via video conferencing via a smartphone, tablet or computer. Not only does it mean you can continue having one-on-one (albeit virtual) appointments with your health team, but it also means you can do it from the comfort of your home and thus reduce your risk of exposure. If you’re seeking support about your diabetes, you can book into one of the many Diabetes WA LIVE webinars which cover a variety of topics around diabetes management, or get in touch with the Diabetes WA Helpline and Telehealth service on 1300 001 880 to book in a one-on-one telehealth appointment with a CDE.
Get back in touch with your GP
While technology has helped connect people with their GP or specialist, not all health issues can be treated via telehealth and some people may need to book in a face-to-face visit to be examined. In these scenarios, GP clinics are working hard to ensure they can provide a safe space for patients and staff, with social distance measures in place, careful and regular cleaning of surfaces and hand sanitiser readily available. If you’ve put your regular health checks on hold during the pandemic, now is the time to see your GP or specialist and get the prescriptions, screening or care you need.
Consider home delivery
By now, you may have already been ordering your groceries or even your meals online to be delivered straight to your doorstep (read more about the options available page xx). But you can now have your medication and diabetes supplies delivered to your home as well. Check with your local pharmacy about whether they can deliver your regular medications, and check out the Diabetes WA Online Shop at shop.diabeteswa.com.au for a range of NDSS products and diabetes supplies such as test strips, needles and syringes, which can be delivered to your door.
Download the COVIDSafe app
To help contain the spread of COVID-19 and identify community exposure to infected cases, the Australian Government is encouraging all Australians to download the COVIDSAFE app, which is completely voluntary. Using Bluetooth technology, the app helps health officials to swiftly notify people who may have been exposed to the virus. For people with diabetes who are using a CGM are experiencing connectivity issues, it may be something to do with the Bluetooth function. If this is the case, it is recommended that you temporarily uninstall the COVIDSafe app until further information is available. For more information about the app and how to download it to your smartphone, go to www.health.gov.au/resources/apps-and-tools/covidsafe-app.