RONAN FAGAN AND MARY O’CONNOR
A new year it may be but the escalation in confirmed Covid-19 cases within the community continues to test the resolve of a public who have had to endure much detrimental impact on their lives in both a personal and professional capacity this past nine months.
Despite the presence of a formally validated vaccine which is in the process of being rolled out to the most vulnerable within our society (and affording cause for a modicum of optimism ), record numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases are now being noted during the daily HSE briefings.
Laden with stark warnings, such press briefings, while almost repetitive in their content, aim to remind the general public of their responsibilities within their respective communities as the virus continues on its rampant course, the present imposition of level five restrictions curtailing much personal and professional activity until January 31 when the situation will then be reviewed.
With local primary and secondary schools not to reopen until the end of January, there haVE been 168 confirmed Covid-19 case numbers in Westmeath from the start of the new year up to midnight on January 4.
Westmeath is third best placed pertaining to the 14 day incidence rate per 100,000 population. An incidence rate of 376.3 is below of the national average number which was 674.4 at midnight on January 4.
As Covid-19 cases continue on an upward trajectory, Tony Canavan, CEO of the Saolta Hospital Group, which provides acute and specialist services at Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe, noted that local hospitals are under “extreme pressure” and it would not take a lot to “push them over the edge”.
“My message to people is to stay at home for the next four weeks. This is the most important thing, to comply with the Level 5 restrictions. It could not be more simple. This will protect lives. Any success we have achieved has been through people following this advice.
“All the hospitals within the Saolta Group are under extreme pressure and it would not take a lot to push us over the edge. If you stay at home and reduce the opportunity for the virus to transmit, it will help the health service remain open and available.”
A total of five patients in the 220 bed Portiuncula University Hospital were confirmed to have Covid-19 on Tuesday morning. Mr Canavan said the number for Portiuncula was very low but it had a big impact on staff.
“In Portiuncula, the concern is more to do with the size of the hospital. Because it is an old building even small numbers of Covid-19 can get a hold very quickly.
“The issue that gives me most concern is the impact that Covid-19 is having on staff and how that impacts our ability to deliver services. In Portiuncula University Hospital there are fewer than 30 currently on Covid-19 related leave,” Mr Canavan continued.
As the virus sweeps through the region, the demand for intensive care beds is increasing. Portiuncula Hospital, which has five ICU and two high dependency/critical care beds did not have any free beds.
“There are a very small number of general hospital beds vacant in the hospital. These have been closed for infection control reasons, both due to Covid-19 and other infections, and will not be opened until it is safe to do so,” Mr Canavan asserted.
Meanwhile, Dr Breda Smyth, Director of Public Health in the West, has urged the people of South Roscommon and East Galway to stay at home unless absolutely necessary and double down in their efforts to follow the HSE’s public health advice to help reduce the rapid spread of Covid-19 across our community.
“Over the last number of weeks we are seeing a rapid increase of cases of confirmed COVID-19 across Galway, Mayo and Roscommon as we have across the country.
“This rapid rise in infections is having a very serious impact on the number of people hospitalised and the number of patients requiring critical care in our ICUs. We must do all we can to protect our hospital services so they are available to provide critical and emergency care to our communities when they need it.
“We have seen a doubling of the number of patients in hospital since last week and this is extremely concerning for us. Community transmission is extremely high. We must act as if every person we meet is an infection risk. Everything we touch outside our home is an infection risk.
“We must stay home as much as possible. We all need to think about the impact that being diagnosed with Covid-19 would have on those close to us. We have started the vaccination roll-out in the hospital system this week and the roll-out in our long-stay facilities will begin over this week and the next. It is critical that we continue to do all we can to protect our loved ones while the vaccine is rolled out,” Dr Smyth commented.
As a local community and as one nation, the time will arrive when social interaction, that of which is now essentially prohibited, will return to daily life.
To that end, continue to heed advice, stay aware and of the utmost importance, stay safe.