As a full-time student and a frontline health worker, Annie Geda has a piece of simple but life-saving advice for other students – wear a mask.
The third-year Otago medical student and paediatric nurse says mask wearing is not only important for keeping yourself safe, but also others.
It is easy for students to become very focused on their studies and feel separate from the wider world, but students should remember they could be in the presence of someone who is vulnerable, she says.
“It's our responsibility to look after them. How do we do this? We wear our masks and we stay home when we are sick. It's not rocket science, we just have to do the basics.”
The disease is spread by droplets from sneezing, coughing or even someone breathing towards you.
“It makes sense to have a barrier across your face.”
Annie says mask wearing is not only important for keeping yourself safe but also others.
“People who catch COVID-19 but are initially asymptomatic can still spread the virus. But wearing a mask and isolating at the first sign of illness are very simple steps to keep everyone safe. And that is what my friends and colleagues have been doing”.
Annie says the Medical School has done a good job of keeping students safe and supported but she still sees a mindset among students of “but I can't miss this one lab”.
“As long as you email and let your lecturers know, you will be considered and supported. You need to report when you are sick and you need to stay home. With all our ways of connecting technologically, it's not impossible to keep up with university work while isolating.
“It honestly just takes putting a mask on. It's not a huge effort, it's not embarrassing. It's something so simple we can do to make a big difference.”
Annie says health care providers are under extreme pressure to look after those who are sick from COVID-19 and those who are delayed in receiving help with other health issues due to the outbreak overwhelming services.
“Our hospitals can't keep up as it is. I am constantly thinking about my poor healthcare worker colleagues. I've just been working in emergency two weeks myself and it is tough in those environments.”
During her semester break, Annie worked in Christchurch as a nurse. She witnessed the “big buzz” of COVID-19 and the flu, which impacted her patients in some terrifying ways.
Working with coughing kids, Annie practised the basics of wearing a mask and washing her hands and hasn't caught the flu or COVID-19 from work.
“I was in the room with kids who had the flu and the only thing protecting me was my mask. I still remember a patient coughing on my face who I later found out had the flu and I didn't get it.
“I was quite amazed really, I thought I was definitely going to catch these illnesses.”
She not only has she stayed well, none of her colleagues have caught COVID-19 from work yet either.
“We wear our masks for eight hours, changing them after eating or when they're dirty. Anyone at work who has contracted the virus did so from outside of work – like friends or family.”
Annie visited many tourist spots during her time overseas in Italy during the Omicron outbreak, her mask always with her.
Annie's father is a doctor in Italy where the initial outbreak took a devastating toll on the population.
While in those early days it wasn't clear how the virus was transmitted, she says her father religiously wore a mask as a preventative measure.
“My dad has been working in this environment for two years and he says the only thing that has truly protected him is wearing a well-fitting, N95 mask and changing it regularly.”
Annie did catch COVID-19 late last year, but believes she caught not from her many masked visits to tourist attractions while on a visit to Italy, but from a family friend.
The friend had been unaware she had COVID-19 and had coughed while they chatted. Neither of them was wearing a mask at the time.
Masks can be sourced across campus at Ask Otago. For more information on staying well and reporting positive tests, visit our COVID-19 student welfare site.
Kōrero by Internal Communications Adviser Chelsea McRae