The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mayo has increased by 170 per cent in the past week, according to the latest figures available at the time of going to print.
The figures announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday evening this week showed that there were 130 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of midnight on Monday, an increase of 82 from the same time last week.
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county has been steadily increasing all week, rising from 55 last Friday, to 107 by Monday and then jumping again to 126 on Tuesday and up again by four, with the most recent release of data.
The HSE has been taking a number of steps to deal with the surge of cases this week - announcing on Monday that as part of the HSE system wide response to COVID-19, Community Assessment Hubs are being set up so that patients who are confirmed as COVID positive, and who require a face to face clinical assessment, can attend a community-based hub as near as possible to where they live. Patients can only access these hubs for assessment by GP referral. The Community Assessment Hub in Mayo will be located in the County Clinic in Castlebar. The Community Assessment Hubs will provide a service Monday to Sunday, from 8am to 8pm. Attendance at the unit will be by appointment only and there is no walk-in capacity.
On Wednesday, a link up between the Mayo Roscommon Hospice and the HSE was also announced to facilitate the use of the Mayo Hospice building for the Covid-19 crisis. For the next few months the Mayo Hospice Building will be handed over to the HSE to provide additional accommodation for patients, should it be required. During this time the Mayo Hospice Building will be fully operated by the HSE. It is still the hope of the Foundation that the Mayo Hospice shall be open for Palliative Care before the end of the year.
Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs the local public hospitals, has drawn up a "surge plan" to meet the challenges expected to face the health service as the pandemic peaks - the HSE believes this will take place within the coming days and week. The number of Covid-19 patients occupying intensive care unit beds in the west's three public hospitals has doubled within a week.
There were a total of 10 such patients at University Hospital Galway, Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe, and Mayo University Hospital on Tuesday of last week. However that figure had doubled to 20 by this week.
If this rapid escalation in numbers continues in the west in the next week or weeks, local ICUs would be full, according to Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group which runs the local public hospitals.
However, the group, which provides acute and specialist hospital services in the west and north-west of the country, has reassured the public that it is expanding its services to cope with the expected rise in patient numbers. At the time of going to press on Thursday evening, there were 130 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mayo.
Mr Canavan said while all Saolta's local hospitals currently have vacant [general] beds and this is being maintained, the occupancy levels of its intensive care units is "changing quite a bit" due to the Covid-19 crisis.
"A week ago there would have been 10 people [with the virus] in the intensive care units in our hospitals in Galway and Mayo. That figure has doubled, there are now up to 20 between our three hospitals."
He added: "We have identified accommodation in Castlebar which will be used as a self-isolation centre for healthcare workers. Some staff cannot isolate in their own homes so we are working with them to provide alternative accommodation for them." It is believed this could also be used as a self isolation facility for the public if needed.
Despite this rise in the number of patients, the hospitals are still working within their existing bed complements, Mr Canavan said, but warned that if that rate of increase continues or escalates next week or over the next few weeks, the local hospitals will reach capacity.
He outlined that all Saolta hospitals have individual plans to expand their ICU capacity. "This is part of our 'surge plan', to increase ICU beds and ventilators on every site. We plan to double our ICU capacity across each of our hospitals, in Mayo, Portiuncula, and UHG, and this is also true for our whole hospital group. We hope it is enough but we don't know if it is. We will do this first of all."
Mr Canavan said Saolta has provided a "significant amount of training" to its existing hospital staff, adding: "When required, they will move into the ICUs." He pointed out that the hospitals were working closely together to provide the best patient services. This sometimes involved transferring patients to other hospitals when capacity issues occurred.