Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Health Minister Andrew Little outlines hospital care, home isolation for sufferers

By RNZ

Health Minister Andrew Little says the hospital system is preparing to handle Covid-19 cases, along with progress in home isolation and therapeutic medicines.

Little, chief medical officer Dr Andrew Connolly and GP Dr Jeff Lowe reveal the plan for how the health system could manage cases following the current vaccination drive.

Little says currently, the number of people in ICU and HDU is roughly two-thirds of capacity.

He says 16 per cent of available ventilators are being utilised across the hospital network.

"In terms of capacity to respond for additional patients, I'm confident that it is there and the planning is there to make sure we manage that carefully.".

He says the capacity of ICU and HDU beds nationwide can be surged to 550 beds.

"If we had to provide additional surge capacity to convert beds for ICU-level care then as a result of the work that started at the end of last year the DHBs tell us they can surge that up to 550 beds - that would be at the cost of other treatment and other patient care."

Little says nurses have been given pre-emptive training which enables them to work competently in an ICU environment under supervision of fully trained ICU nurses.

This surge-style ICU preparedness follows a similar model used by the UK National Health Service, he says, British ICU counterparts have provided advice to ICU leaders around New Zealand.

Little says one issue of concern is the logistical challenge of an outbreak taking place in an area served by a smaller hospital.

In this situation, there may be a need to relocate some staff and patients, and planning for this scenario is underway, he says.

"The best response to ensure we don't put undue pressure on our health system is vaccination ... maximum vaccination will mean minimising the pressure on the system."

Health Minister Andrew Little, says currently, the number of people in ICU and HDU is roughly two-thirds of capacity. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Home isolation

The Ministry of Health expects a worst case scenario of up to 5300 cases of Covid 19 per week in the Auckland and Northern region, assuming a 90 per cent vaccination rate can be achieved. The modelling is part of planning for how hospital and ICU systems would cope.

"I know there have been figures mentioned about the modelling at the peak of this in 2022, what number of cases we might have. For the Northern region this looks like 5300 cases of Covid-19 per week, the important thing about that is it's predicted that 5270 of those cases will be managed in the community," GP Jeff Lowe says.

Little says in the future the vast number of people with Covid-19 will recover at home.

He says work is going into developing support for people recovering from Covid-19 in the community. They are likely to be vaccinated people.

There are likely to be daily or twice daily welfare checks.

Little says some people recovering from Covid-19 at home may need to be provided with a pulse oximeter which sits on a patient's finger and measures their oxygen levels.

He says health authorities would call these patients and ask them to provide a reading from time to time to ensure their oxygen levels are not deteriorating.

Little says alternative accommodation will have to be found for people recovering from Covid-19 who live in homes that hold a large number of people.

Lowe says public health will do two assessments of positive cases to define both their medical and social risk which will determine whether they can recover at home.

He says the medical risk of a patient will take into account ethnicity, age and other medical conditions, meanwhile, the social risk of a patient will look at whether they are able to self-isolate at home and if their family have needs that need to be met.

"90-95 percent of people who get Covid-19 will have a mild to moderate viral illness which requires no treatment but will need monitoring, usually at home.

"We can alter those figures with high levels of vaccination so that's still the job at hand."

Lowe says primary care will be in daily contact with hospitals regarding people who are showing signs of a more severe infection while recovering at home.

Two days ago, Little told Morning Report since the start of the pandemic about 100 ICU beds had been added nationally.

Connolly told Nine to Noon this week the worst case scenario would see up to 150 people hospitalised at a time.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has said people with Covid-19 would soon be asked to quarantine at home as a necessary step to prevent MIQ places being further limited for people coming from overseas.

"There's no question we're going into a period where we are likely to see quite significant growth in the number of cases."


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