1 Sep 2021

Covid-19: Hospitals build more room for patients - Bloomfield

9:37 am on 1 September 2021

More room is being made for Covid-19 patients in two Auckland hospitals, but the country's head of health rejects criticism hospitals aren't prepared, and says case numbers look set to fall.

Auckland City Hospital

Auckland City Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told Morning Report builders have been making alterations at Auckland City Hospital to ensure more space is available for Covid-19 patients.

He expected the number of Covid-19 positive patients would bounce around for the next few days, and could increase, but was confident the trend would settle soon, and is going in the right direction.

A chunk of the current cohort in isolation were approaching their day-12 test, which could push numbers up again, but the number of people infected appeared to be dropping.

"The signs are good, overall the trend is looking good. I think the numbers will will hold up for the next couple of days before they start to to fall."

There were 32 patients in hospital across the region on Tuesday night; 18 in Middlemore, 12 at Auckland City and two at North Shore.

Bloomfield rejected criticisms that not enough had been done to ensure hospitals had enough ICU beds and staff to cope with a possible influx of Covid-19.

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Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"At the moment our hospitals are about just under 80 percent full, and our ICU beds just under 60 percent full around the country. We've got ICU beds if they're required, not just in Auckland but around the country".

RNZ understands both Auckland City and Middlemore are near or at capacity for the negative pressure rooms that help prevent spread of the virus.

"The role of negative pressure rooms is if you've got people on wards where there are other people, the negative pressure room stops the risk of the virus or any organism getting out of that room. There are 40 across the Auckland hospitals," Dr Bloomfield said.

"But it's not essential that you have people with Covid-19 in a negative pressure room; you can dedicate a ward or a space to those people - called cohorting.

"There are plenty of negative pressure rooms there, there is good ICU capacity, but of course if ... you do get more patients than you've got negative pressure rooms, then you just take a different approach, and that is you cohort these patients into a dedicated ward."

Bloomfield said that need had been among the considerations as alterations were made to accommodate the rising numbers of Covid-19 admissions, and led to a dedicated Covid-19 area being created at Auckland City Hospital.

Those infected with the Delta strain were twice as likely to need hospital treatment as those infected with previous strains, he said; "So we can expect there will be more hospitalisations."

Since March, training had been ramped up so more staff could work in ICU care and with ventilated patients, more ventilators had been purchased and oxygen supplies increased, Bloomfield said.

"There's a real shortage of ICU trained staff around the world, and of course with our border closed that's added extra pressure on the the ability to get extra staff.

"So we've been facing the same pressures that other countries have."

Of the cases identified so far, about 50 have not yet been linked to the current outbreak using genetic sequencing. But Bloomfield said he was comfortable contact tracing had showed good connections to known cases.

"[I'm] not concerned about those. We've got enough circumstantial evidence from their presence at locations of interest, or a clear place where - or person - they could have been infected by."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has repeatedly called for the vaccination drive in Auckland to be prioritised over the rest of the country, following successive outbreaks and lockdowns in the city.

Bloomfield said daily vaccination rates have been high recently, and work was underway to try to increase the number of vaccines coming into the country so those high rates can continue.

But if more can't be secured, one option was slowing vaccination rates in the rest of the country in order to keep them high in Auckland.

"That would be the top option in our plan, but we're also trying to pursue other other ways to see if we can get the extra vaccine in through September - more to say about that in a couple of days."

Goff welcomed the possible move. He said the city's international airport and large number of managed isolation and quarantine facilities make it especially vulnerable.

"I've been banging on about that for quite some time, and not because we're looking for special treatment for Auckland, we're simply saying you put the vaccinations in where the risk is greatest."

Bloomfield said wastewater testing was being considered at Spring Hill Prison in Waikato, where a Corrections officer tested positive.

Inmates and staff who were in contact with the Corrections officer had been tested, and the last of the results from those tests were expected on Wednesday, he said, but there had been no notifications of any positive tests so far.

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