Covid-19: Garden Route hospitals under severe pressure

Private and public hospitals in the Garden Route are experiencing enormous pressure as Covid-19 cases and deaths in the district are increasing.

The district had a 29% increase in cases over the past week and in the Western Cape it now has the highest number of active cases per 100 000 of the population, namely 922.

The death toll stands at 1 706 with 97 deaths reported in the past week.

“I can almost not even begin to describe how bad things are going,” Mediclinic George manager Kassie Karstens told George Herald. He said admissions are not declining yet and they have opened yet another Covid ward.

“Our resources, such as ventilators and Airvos, and all intensive care and high care beds are currently in use.”

George Hospital CEO Michael Vonk said Covid admissions to George Hospital are higher than in the second wave and the Covid ICU has been running at maximum capacity for several weeks.

“The Garden Route currently has the highest rate of Covid-19 cases per 100 000 of the population in the Western Cape.

“The high number of daily infections and active cases translate to hospital admissions and both public and private hospitals in the Garden Route are already under immense pressure.

“Deaths as a result of Covid-19 have increased over the past week. This reflects the very difficult position hospitals are in at the moment for staff who have to manage this and the trauma and grief that many families and friends have to bear.”

Karstens said the emotional pressure of deaths on their staff is taking its toll. “They are tired. We have again acquired staff from other parts of the country to help us out.”

Mediclinic George manager Kassie Karstens. Photo: George Herald

According to Vonk, George Hospital receives frequent oxygen deliveries, but its oxygen supply remains under significant pressure with more than three tons of oxygen used per day.

The hospital has 96 patients admitted of whom 24 are in high care. Three dedicated Covid-19 wards have been created that are all operating close to capacity. Last week the hospital had to commission part of another ward as an additional Covid ward to accommodate the growing need for hospital beds.

“George, Knysna and Oudtshoorn hospitals are able to assist patients needing high-flow nasal oxygen therapy. These beds are managed together as a collective pool by an ethics committee. This ensures equitable access across both Central Karoo and Garden Route districts. Patients are therefore transferred between the hospitals as needed and where capacity exists.”

Vonk said the peak in hospital admissions can be expected to follow the peak in active cases by a couple of weeks. “Not only do we have a large number of patients admitted, but we also have a number of staff members in either isolation or quarantine. This puts tremendous pressure on the system.”

According to Karstens, several staff members at the Mediclinic have to isolate, but the number is much smaller than in any of the previous waves. “The vaccination is definitely helping, and staff return on time and do not become ill.”

Mediclinic George, like George Hospital, is experiencing extreme pressure because of a high number of Covid-19 admissions. Photo: Alida de Beer

5 706 active cases

The Garden Route now has 5 706 active cases, which equates to 922 cases per 100 000 of the population (it was 830 a week ago). This is higher than the Western Cape provincial rate of 496 cases per 100 000. Vonk said George (with 1 295 per 100 000) and Mossel Bay (1 389 per 100 000) are the worst affected areas with the highest incidence rate.

According to Nadia Ferreira, district health spokesperson, all sub-districts had percentage increases over the last 7 days compared with the previous week, except Mossel Bay, which has essentially maintained the status quo. Hessequa and Bitou had the biggest percentage increases.

Ferreira said the new cases are widespread with many household clusters. The total number of cases reported in the district up until 26 July was 48 297. One week ago it was 45 017.

Both Vonk and Karstens made an earnest plea to the community to adhere to Covid protocols and get vaccinated if they can.

Karstens said at Mediclinic Geneva, more than 7 500 vaccinations have been done to date of mostly older people, and this can be seen in the admissions at the hospital. “The ICU has quite a bit more younger patients than before.”

Vonk stressed that an immediate concern for George Hospital is the potential impact of people not adhering to simple safety measures, such as wearing their mask correctly, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and crowds, and staying home when feeling sick.

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