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What does it mean to take responsibility for your own health during the COVID-19 pandemic?

As COVID-19 case numbers soar, the Federal, State and Territory Governments have made it clear that they will not be putting in place any mandates to protect people from the virus - instead, the onus is now on people to take care of their own health.

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Going into this third wave of COVID, there are a number of options and steps you can take to best protect yourself from the virus. [Source: iStock]

So what does that mean for older people and how can you protect yourself?

What happened?

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, announced last week that while case numbers are increasing due to new subvariants of COVID-19, the Government has no intention of putting in place measures to limit the third wave of the pandemic.

"The advice from the Chief Health Officers indicates that we really have moved beyond the era of very broad mask mandates, lockdowns and things like that," explains Minister Butler.

"We're deep into the third year of this pandemic. Clearly, there are still mask mandates for situations like aged care facility visits, on public transport, on aeroplanes and the like. I don't see a return to very broad-based mask mandates - [that’s] the advice I'm getting.

"But clearly the message is take responsibility, make your own choice that if you're in an indoor space [and] you're not able to socially distance give serious consideration to wearing a mask because it will increase your protection."

Minister Butler wants to encourage people to get vaccinated for their third or fourth dose, but also to take control of their own circumstances in the third year of the pandemic.

What can that look like?

How you protect yourself against COVID-19 can look different from person to person.

You may decide to continue getting vaccinated against COVID but not return to mask wearing. Or, you may decide to start wearing masks again when visiting public places.

These decisions are both valid and can assist you in reducing your risk of contracting the virus.

Going into this third wave of COVID, there are a number of options and steps you can take to best protect yourself from the virus.

Get your third or fourth vaccine

Whether you are ready for a winter booster or need to get your third booster, try to keep up to date with your vaccination.

The Federal Government is highly encouraging winter boosters people over 50 to keep their immunity high during the cold season.

Older residents living in aged care will have easy access to the winter booster through on-site clinics, whereas older people in the community will need to book into chemists, doctors’ clinics or vaccination clinics to get their booster.

Wear masks

While mandates are not in place for wearing masks, except in high risk settings like aged care, you can begin wearing masks again to protect yourself.

You may even find some private places and shops decide to reinstate masks within their buildings to protect their workers and prevent the virus being spread.

Wearing a mask can greatly reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 or prevent you from passing an unknown case of COVID on to others.

Social distance where possible

Avoiding public places or big crowds can also assist in reducing the spread of COVID.

This could mean not seeing friends who are close contacts until they have cleared their possible infectious period or skipping your weekly seniors meal at the pub.

However, the social distancing decisions you make should reflect what makes you feel comfortable.

It is important that you keep up your social contact with others during this difficult time by utilising technology and maintain your health and wellbeing by using telehealth services.

Hand Hygiene

The basics of keeping viruses at bay! Make sure to regularly wash your hands throughout the day.

If you are in public, using hand sanitiser can be a great option if you can't wash your hands while out and about.

Additionally, try to reduce your physical contact with others. For example, wave at friends rather than shaking their hands.

COVID Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)

If you have been a close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 but don't have symptoms, or just want to check you don't have COVID, you should undertake a RAT.

If you are a concession card holder, you will still be able to access free RATs until the end of July.

However, Minister Butler says these tests have not been extended beyond July. So you will need to find and pay for your own tests in the future.

If you become a close contact you may be able to access free RATs depending on which State you live in, so check your State or Territory Government’s COVID website for more information.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also recommended to prioritise getting a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test over a RAT, as the RATs seem to only have a 60 percent success rate.

COVID Polymerese Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

If you show signs or symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested for the virus for confirmation and to begin isolating as soon as possible.

Testing sites and open hours have changed in each State/Territory, and some may require you to book ahead of time or get a doctor's referral.

To find the relevant information for you, go to your State/Territory health department website:

Be mindful that many States and Territories have scaled back their testing and you may need to look around for your closest and most accessible clinic to get PCR tested.

Some States/Territories, like Victoria, have created special testing services for people who require extra care or support, or find it difficult to leave their home, which are free to use for eligible people.

Contact your relevant State or Territory health department for information that may assist you.

Antiviral treatments

The AMA wants to encourage people to get PCR tests so that you can receive reliable confirmation of whether you have COVID, as it improves your chances of being able to access newly available antiviral treatments.

People aged 70 and over, or 30 and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, can now access antiviral treatments, which are beneficial if you are COVID-19 positive.

This treatment can prevent vulnerable people, like older Australians, from having severe virus symptoms and also reduce your risk of being admitted to hospital or losing your life.

You can contact your doctor to get a script for the antiviral treatment - but make sure to discuss how this treatment may impact the other medication you are taking.

Put in place a COVID plan

If you want to be best prepared for if you do contract the virus, put in place a COVID-19 action plan.

This plan could include:

  • Whether you are able to take antiviral medication with your other medication
  • Who will assist you if you need to isolate
  • How you will get groceries during this time
  • How you will get the medication you need
  • Where you will be isolating
  • Who will know about you isolating and can provide help
  • How emergency decisions will work if you get very ill

Having answers to the basics of COVID can greatly reduce your stress when you are already feeling ill from the virus.

Make sure to take steps that are best for you and your health over the third wave of COVID-19.

How are you planning to protect yourself from COVID-19 in this latest wave? Tell us in the comments below.

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