Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mayo have increased by 30 over the past week, according to the latest figures issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team at the time of going to print.
These latest figures show there were 48 confirmed cases in the county, compared to 18 last Friday - based on data recorded as of midnight Monday, March 30.
Mayo University Hospital has been ramping up its preparations over the past while to deal with the anticipated rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.
Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group which runs the local public hospitals in the region, including Mayo University Hospital, told the Advertiser that: "All local Saolta hospitals, including Mayo University Hospital, have stepped up their final preparations for the anticipated rise in Covid-19 cases. We see ourselves now as being in the escalation phase of the virus.
"We are specifically working on the pathways of care for those who have the virus or are suspected of having it. The idea is that they would be able to come into hospital through a separate stream or partitioned area to be assessed and evaluated and receive care provision also in a separate stream."
He added that changes have been made to Mayo University Hospital in this regard with work being completed on a physical division in the emergency department in the hospital on Wednesday.
Canavan added that Saolta's second key priority is putting together a plan to increase the number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU ) beds, saying: "We currently have four ICU beds in Mayo University Hospital. We hope to increase those numbers considerably, at a minimum to eight beds, all hospitals are ready to increase capacity on a phased basis, straight away, if needed.
"The most important difference between ICU beds and other beds is the level and skills of the staff involved. Nursing ratios are very high in ICUs, these are where the sickest people, who require the highest level of medical and nursing care, are looked after.
"We have a great medical team in our ICUs and have been training up our own existing staff (to supplement current ICU staff levels ) to work in these units to meet future needs. Some 250 staff (across the hospital group ) have been trained over the last four weeks, these are nursing staff and therapists, such as physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. These are currently working in our hospitals but are now trained if we need them to work in our ICUs.
"Regarding how long patients stay in ICUs, it depends on the individual. Patients admitted with Covid-19 would on average remain there for two weeks." He stressed it will be a minority of people who get Covid-19 but nonetheless it will be a 'significant minority'.
"The third area we are working on is to ensure that we have as many 'ordinary' beds available in our hospitals. We have a number of vacant beds, more than ever before, more than we would even have on Christmas Day. I haven't seem that in my 30 years in the health service. One day last week there were about 20 per cent of our hospital beds across the group vacant.
"Three weeks ago we started to empty our hospitals, discharging people to other facilities, and as the number of patients arriving in hospital reduced, we managed to maintain that position of empty beds.
"That leaves us with concerns that there are patients in the community that probably need hospital attention. We would remind them to come to the emergency department and they will be looked after. We would expect certain numbers and types of patients to turn up, for example those with underlying heart conditions. If you are unwell or have a health issue don't be afraid to come, you will be looked after.
"The message we are very keen to get across to the public is, while it looks like things might not be as bad, particularly in the west this week, as in Dublin, this is not the time to get complacent. We need to adhere to Government regulations regarding going outside, maintaining social distancing, and coughing/sneezing etiquette. Don't feel the work is done and dusted, it needs to be sustained, we need to stick with this."
Jean Kelly, the group director of nursing with the Saolta University Health Care organisation, said nurses and midwives at all its hospitals are busy preparing for the expected escalation in Covid-19 cases.
"We are preparing Covid-19 specific areas in hospitals and different pathways for admissions. Those coming in with a positive diagnosis for Covid are being streamed through a Covid pathway. We are trying to have two almost separate sections and everyone is trying their best to stream patients to the Covid pathway and non-Covid pathway. That is one of the streams of work going on.
"The second major work going on is changes in terms of nursing. Everybody is aware that patients with Covid-19 need a lot of critical care. We need to support our ICUs, we need to expand them. We have taken nurses who might have worked in ICU before and upskilled them. Our centres of nursing education are running courses daily to upskill staff who have put their hands up to go back to ICUs. We even ran education days on St Patrick's Day - March 17."