Update, April 3: Health Infrastructure Chief Executive Rebecca Wark said Health Infrastructure is currently forecasting project handover of the new Macksville Hospital in May 2020 to enable operational commissioning, before the new facility is expected to open its doors later that month.
"This is six months ahead of the target operational date and an achievement that will benefit the whole Mid North Coast community," Ms Wark said.
Member for Oxley Melinda Paveyextended her heartfelt thanks to the local tradies and workers, led by a "locally born and bred" project manager, who have been working hard to get this project completed.
"It's been their effort and skills which have made the early completion of this project possible, to coincide with this time of need," Mrs Pavey said.
From March 31: Fast-tracking the opening of the new Macksville District Hospital is one option being discussed to prepare us for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
Mid North Coast Local Health District (MNCLHD) Chief Executive Stewart Dowrick said he was "very optimistic" about commissioning the hospital sooner than planned.
"We were looking about July for a handover of the facility to us, and we do think that will be brought forward, but we'll know in the next week or so," Mr Dowrick said in an interview with ABC radio this morning.
"I'm very optimistic they'll be able to move it forward to have it ready before the winter period really hits in this region."
Services would then have to be transferred across after the commissioning phase.
It was originally estimated the new hospital would open early next year, once services were moved from the old hospital.
Mr Dowrick said having the new hospital in addition to the facilities at the old hospital would significantly help the district's capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
According to Mr Dowrick our health district is currently "doubling intensive care capacity and building the frontline health workforce".
"The MNCLHD has plans well underway to significantly increase capacity in our public hospitals to care for those patients requiring hospitalisation," he said in response to questions we asked about how many beds were available for patients in our district.
"NSW Health services are also activating plans to manage their elective surgery lists as the system moves into a period of managing COVID-19 and the upcoming winter flu season. LHDs have been planning for this for many weeks."
There are Intensive Care Units (ICU) in both the Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour Base Hospitals.
As a district hospital, Macksville does not currently have an ICU.
But Mr Dowrick said it was important to point out "that most people who contract the COVID-19 virus will likely have mild illness and be able to self-isolate at home without the need for hospitalisation".
"Internationally, this has been shown to be around 80 per cent of confirmed cases." he said.
Still, expert modelling published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday suggested infection rates could peak in Australia in early October, with intensive care units at their busiest in mid-November.
The authors estimate there could be more than 14,000 people in hospital across NSW and 5100 patients in intensive care at that point.
"This represents 585 per cent of the state's baseline ICU capacity prior to the epidemic," write the article's authors from the University of Sydney, Monash University and James Cook University.
The infectious diseases modellers note that prior to the current coronavirus epidemic there were 874 intensive care beds in NSW.
On March 18 the NSW Government announced a major $2.3 billion health boost and economic stimulus package to protect the community and help protect jobs in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak over the next six months.
Of the two key components was $700 million in extra funding for NSW Health.
This funding is reportedly being used to double ICU capacity, prepare for additional COVID-19 testing, purchase additional ventilators and medical equipment where needed, and roll out more COVID-19 assessment clinics.
What about doctor and nurse numbers?
We also asked what was being done to increase numbers of health professionals in our district, should we require their services.
"MNCLHD is rolling out strategies to increase our frontline health workforce, including extending casual and part-time employees, boosting agency casuals, and upskilling parts of the workforce," Mr Dowrick said.
"We are also exploring a range of alternate workforce options from the broader public and private sectors to help us respond to anticipated increases in clinical activity."
What can we do?
Many members of our community we have spoken with are struggling to remain idle during this time of crisis, and have been keen to know what they can do to help.
But the best thing local residents could possibly do right now is stay home and practise good hygiene, according to Mr Dowrick.
"Members of the community have a key role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by staying home where possible, washing your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, covering coughs and sneezes, maintaining social distance and observing rules on social gathering," he said.
For details on the NSW Government's response to COVID-19, visit: https://preview.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/latest-updates
For the latest COVID-19 updates, visit: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-latest.aspx#statistics