An unfolding crisis: tracking NSW Covid cases in hospital and ICU

By Nick Evershed and Josh Nicholas
ICU staff in Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital.
ICU staff in Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital. Photograph: Kate Geraghty/The Sydney Morning

The number of Covid patients in NSW hospitals is expected to peak in October, with intensive care units bracing for an “overwhelming” impact.

Here, we explain how we will track the unfolding crisis as hospitalisations surge in the coming weeks.

NSW government modelling conducted by the Burnet Institute assessed the state’s healthcare capacity and how the system would respond to pressure. You can read a detailed explanation of this modelling, and what it means here.

In addition to this modelling, NSW Health has pandemic response planning that sets thresholds for how hospitals are impacted by rising cases, and how they should adjust their practices based on the number of cases involved.

Much of the modelling and health response strategy focusses on ICU activity and capacity, so the most important thing we’ll be following is the number of Covid patients in ICU over time, and where this number sits in regard to the thresholds:

This should give a general overview of the impact on ICUs across the state, however it doesn’t account for variation by local health district – that is, some areas may be much less impacted than others, even though the state-level numbers are bad. We don’t have the information available to follow this at the local health district level.

For the purposes of making the numbers consistent with other reporting, we’re omitting the Burnet Institute’s assumed baseline ICU occupancy of 387, and have lowered the thresholds by the same amount.

We’re also tracking Covid hospitalisations as a proportion of cases. This is one indicator where we might see a shift due to increasing vaccination rates, and a shifting age profile of those who are getting sick with the coronavirus:

While the rate has decreased over time, experts say it is also important to recognise that the number of hospitalisations can also be influenced by hospital capacity, testing rates and isolation guidelines.

There is also an official hospitalisation rate published in the NSW government’s weekly epidemiological reports, but the data published has a two-week lag.

As of the last report, 11% of total cases in the current outbreak had been hospitalised.

We will also be continuing to update our chart showing the raw numbers for hospitalisations, deaths and Covid patients in the ICU:

You can find all of these charts at our main Covid cases tracking page, or continue to check here for the updated charts.


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