More than-one-in 10 Warrnambool residents were infected with COVID-19 during the summer wave that swept through the city, new data shows, with the hospital signalling it is pivoting the way it operates.
State government data, which now includes positive rapid antigen tests, reveals 3720 people have tested positive to the virus in Warrnambool - almost 11 per cent of the population.
Before Christmas there had been just over 100 cases in Warrnambool across the entire pandemic.
There are currently 373 active cases in Warrnambool.
Since January 10, South West Healthcare has treated 47 COVID-19 patients in hospital and another 364 through its remote monitoring team over the same time, chief executive officer Craig Fraser said.
"Whilst we had a high of 13 patients, most of January has averaged at about seven patients daily and is now averaging around four per day which is great news," he said.
Mr Fraser said the numbers were in line with expectations and had been "manageable", but staff had worked "incredibly hard".
He said from Monday, the hospital had begun to wind back some operational changes so they could start to return to core business.
"However if at any point we need to scale-up again, this will also be possible and the systems we have in place are flexible," Mr Fraser said.
In January, the hospital opened a COVID ward which allowed it to increase or decrease numbers as needed.
"This required us to make some changes to the structure of our other wards to accommodate the additional COVID-specific beds needed at the time," he said.
"From today we will still have capacity to offer the same number of COVID-specific beds, however in a different ward structure which places less strain on our teams."
Mr Fraser said that if at any point the hospital needed to scale-up COVID care again, it had flexible systems in place.
He said staff were able to respond quickly to the latest wave and put in place measures to ensure that the number of cases that presented to testing sites and hospital did not overwhelm its operations.
"South West Healthcare planned for the worst-case scenario and hoped for the best, taking into account not just positive case numbers, but tourism, large local events and staff capacity to meet demand," he said.
Mr Fraser said there were now less people presenting for testing but said that could be because rapid antigen tests were now more readily available, and there were also less people presenting to hospital for treatment.
"The virus is still circulating in the community and we encourage people to continue to do what they can to stop the spread - get your booster shot, wash your hands, wear a mask, get tested at the first sign of symptoms and isolate if you are positive," he said.
"It is clear that we should expect a number of people to continue to test positive throughout this year and businesses, schools and members of the community are starting to cement new plans for managing that.
"Testing positive for COVID and managing the illness - as many people will now know - is not as daunting as it once was, if you are up to date with your vaccines and protected with that immunity."
Mr Fraser said last week there was an average of 200 RATs issued each day during the week whilst there was an average of 60 PCR tests each day.
Her said the access to rapid antigen tests throughout schools and community had made a big difference to the way the hospital tests and had eased the pressure across the system considerably.
Mr Fraser encouraged people to register their positive RAT results.
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