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Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Babies and frail patients in their 90s test positive at Middlemore Hospital’s ED

Two-month-old babies and frail patients in their 90s are among a surging number of people testing positive for Covid-19 after turning up at Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department.

Early last week, one in 10 people visiting the South Auckland hospital’s ED had contracted the virus. This week, it’s one in eight.

Some were patients with broken bones and others were women about give birth. Many had no idea they were infected with the virus.

Before Omicron became rife in the community, many hospitals across the country were already operating at near-capacity.

National Party health spokesman Shane Reti yesterday said: “The combination of full hospitals, not enough nurses, Omicron starting to surge and winter fast approaching is a deadly mix”.

Yesterday, 2856 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the community and 146 people were fighting the virus in hospital, with one person in ICU.

Middlemore Hospital head of emergency department Dr Vanessa Thornton told the Heraldthe number of people coming to hospital for treatment who were infected with Covid-19 was going up.

Every patient entering Middlemore Hospital’s ED was given a rapid antigen test (RAT), even if they didn’t have any symptoms of Covid-19.

“The youngest Covid case we have seen was a 2-month-old baby and the oldest has been patients in their 90s,” she said.

“We are mainly seeing people that are sick with Covid and have other comorbidities or have a broken bone and have Covid or are delivering a baby with Covid,” Thornton said.

However, she said, the number of presentations didn’t compare to the surges the ED experienced last winter with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“That was extreme and particularly affected children. Winter is always a much busier time for us but Covid is adding pressure, particularly with staffing as we are being stretched.”

The hospital usually had a workforce sick rate of about 3 to 4 per cent a day and that had certainly increased with Covid said Thornton, who couldn’t provide exact figures on the current rate.

Hospital staff identified as close contacts were able to return to work if they presented a negative RAT result before they got to work and showed no symptoms, which Thornton said was helping.

She was confident there would be enough RATs available to test every patient who entered ED.

“The ED has between 300 to 400 patients presenting in a 24-hour period. We have capacity for RATs on that group of patients and we will PCR those being admitted,” Thornton said.

However, the ED boss urged people with mild Covid symptoms to stay away.

“People should not come to the hospital with mild diseases. Our focus is on life and limb-threatening conditions.

“We are diverting people who have mild illness and not testing people for that, they go to the community testing stations for that, we have enough work to do.”

Full hospitals and lack of nurses 'a deadly mix'

Reti yesterday released DHB data showing many hospitals were operating at near-capacity before Omicron began to sweeping through the community.

He was concerned hospitals would not be able to cope in the coming months as the outbreak grew.

Nearly half of the country’s hospitals were above 90 per cent occupancy with Whangarei Hospital reaching 100 per cent on February 9, the new data released by Reti showed.

This was when there were only 204 new community cases and 16 people in hospital.

“We don’t have enough beds and we also don’t have enough nurses. The same data showed more than 2000 nursing vacancies across the sector, including 400 vacancies at Auckland hospital alone,” Reti said.

He said this Government was not prepared for an Omicron outbreak and a failure to resource ICU and general hospital beds had been exposed.

Health Minister Andrew Little said hospitals had been preparing for months for the Omicron outbreak and were managing to ensure they had capacity to deal with Covid patients.

“This will involve deferring planned care, which has happened in each of the previous outbreaks,” he said.

Little described Reti as being “mischievous” with the figures saying he referred to information on a single day.

“But numbers of patients in each hospital change each day and hospital capacity fluctuated, today Northland hospital is at 82 per cent capacity,” Little said.

Of the roughly 2600 hospital beds in Auckland, 340 were unoccupied, he said.

“Actively managing down planned-care demand is now happening and will mean more beds available for Covid patients.”

The success of our vaccination campaign meant even though more people were getting Covid, far fewer were needing hospital care, Little said.

He said the Government had invested heavily in the health system to rebuild after a period of inadequate funding that had seen buildings run down, nurses’ pay going backwards in real terms, and hospitals struggling to keep up with their populations.

“I am confident the measures this Government has taken in response to Covid means our hospitals are prepared for the Omicron outbreak.”

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