The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 continued to rise in Mayo this week - which now has 30 more confirmed cases than Galway and 100 more than the other three Connacht counties of Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon combined.
On a week-to week-period from Wednesday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 22, figures available at the time of going to print show confirmed cases in Mayo increased from 216 to 339 over the space of seven days - an increase of 123 or just under 57 per cent.
The HSE has also been releasing daily reports on the numbers of those in hospital with both confirmed cases and suspected cases of Covid-19, noting that in Mayo University Hospital, there were 33 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 17 suspected cases of Covid-19 being treated on Wednesday, April 22, with two of those confirmed cases relating to critical care beds.
The number of cases being treated in critical care beds for both confirmed and suspected cases in the hospital over the past week reached a peak of six over the seven day period from Wednesday, April 15 to April 22 on Wednesday, April 15, with four confirmed cases and two suspected cases being treated in critical care beds. Since then the numbers have continued to drop with the latest data showing that on Wednesday, April 22, there were two confirmed cases and zero suspected cases being treated in critical care beds in the hospital.
The number of confirmed cases in the county that are being treated in Mayo University Hospital has moved from 13 per cent (29 ) of confirmed cases on Wednesday, April 15 to 9.7 per cent (33 ) of confirmed cases as of Wednesday, April 22, with the percentage of confirmed cases receiving hospital treatment in Mayo University Hospital over the five day period from Wednesday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 22 coming in at 9.5%.
Hospital chief urges people with non-coronavirus illnesses to also attend hospital
While the health services continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic on all fronts - there has been a dramatic drop-off in the number of people attending hospital emergency departments over recent weeks. This has led to the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs Mayo University Hospital - Tony Cananvan - renewing his appeal this week to people with health concerns to attend hospital. He said he was very concerned about this group's reluctance to access care and said the reduction in numbers was not due to people having "become healthier".
He reassured them that services were operating as normal and that every precaution was being taken to protect people's health and keep patients safe. He feared there were people with major health problems, such as heart attack or stroke symptoms, staying away from hospital during the current health crisis.
"The hospitals are so quiet, there has been a very significant drop in attendance at emergency departments, which is of growing concern to us" he told this newspaper, adding that a 50 per cent fall-off in numbers has been recorded on some days. "There is a reduction in the number of admissions to hospitals because of this."
There are 200 vacant general hospital beds in Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon, according to the Irish Nurses Midwives Organisation Trolley Watch report on Wednesday, April 23 and there were no patients waiting for beds in Mayo University Hospital and overall, just 32 in the country.
The Saolta Chief added that ED figures rose 'very slightly' this week but the drop-off in the numbers of patients was still a major issue and was something which the hospital would address at the start of next month. People on hospital waiting lists would be high on his agenda.
Meanwhile managing the pandemic is still very much the top priority for the local hospitals. While the coronavirus curve appears to have been flattened and the number of patients in local intensive care units (ICUs ) is much lower than originally anticipated, many lives have been lost and the health of whole communities has been adversely affected by this insidious infection, he said.
"These [local ICU numbers] are lower than last week," Mr Canavan continued. "A few things are helping us understand a little better what is happening. At national level, a peak in the number of deaths and cases [of the coronavirus] may have occurred earlier in April. The other thing they [the Department of Health] are saying is that the curve has been flattened. It looks like this is the case and our figures reflect it. There is absolutely no question that the decisions taken by the Government, the timing [of those decisions], and the [public] compliance with these measures, has been responsible for this. In fairness, the reason we flattened the curve is because ordinary people were very, very compliant with the restrictions which were put in place."
A major health crisis was averted by communities working in partnership with the Government, he said, and added that a very grave situation could have been unfolding now in Ireland otherwise. If this country had experienced the same challenges as Italy did, our health service would not have been able to cope, he stated.
"In the middle of April we had 16 people in our ICUs in Galway and Mayo. In total, we have 30 ICU beds across the three hospitals [UHG, Portiuncula, and Mayo]. They were a little over half full then. When we were looking back a few weeks ago and planning and forecasting what would be required we believed there would have been a requirement for 100 beds - we were looking at the situation, for example, in Italy. But in reality we were only using 16."
If swift action, in terms of preparation, had not been taken as early as it had been, the hospitals would have been 'absolutely overrun', he said. "There is no question about that. We went into this very, very nervous, even with all the preparation and work done. If we ended up in the same situation as Italy we wouldn't be able to cope. It's as black and white as that. The people who have survived Covid-19 in Ireland wouldn't have survived. The measures that were taken [here] were so important."
While significant progress has been made in stemming the coronavirus tide, Mr Canavan remained cautious about this highly infectious illness which has no respect for borders. He urged people not to become complacent and to continue abiding by the Government's personal safety regulations. "We all feel it would be good to get back some normality. However, the progress that has been made is quite delicate. It wouldn't take much to cause a further spread of the virus."
Concern moves to helping nursing homes
Among Mr Canavan's other concerns are helping nursing homes (one north Mayo nursing home confirmed this week that five of its residents had died due to Covid-19 ) cope with the spread of Covid-19, ensuring residents remain safe, and looking after the well-being of healthcare staff who have become infected.
"To some extent, our focus is shifting to see how we can support people in nursing homes. There are 73 private nursing homes and 20 HSE facilities across the three counties of Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon. There are residents and staff in some of these homes testing positive for Covid-19. We know for sure more than half of the deaths from it throughout the country are in nursing homes or long term care facilities.
"Within the HSE there have been structures put in place in both public and private long term care facilities. Our hospital group are contributing to this and are involved in a number of ways. The most important way is we are contributing staff, both medical and nursing staff are providing support as required. Our medical staff have been in these facilities for the last two weeks and our nursing staff are starting this week. They are available if and when required and will go into these individual homes. The reason we can do that is we still have empty beds on all sides [in hospitals] therefore there are some nursing staff we can release."
He acknowledged there were ongoing difficulties in relation to accessing personal protective equipment (PPE ) but stated the situation was much better now than a couple of weeks ago.
"We are trying to ensure that the nursing homes get the PPE that they require. They are getting some but they are saying they need more."
The Saolta chief executive said while a lot of work has been done in many areas there was still much to do. "We want to try and make sure that people in our long term care facilities are safe and are not afraid and that their families are not either. We are concerned about our staff, too. A number of healthcare staff tested positive for Covid-19. We are concerned about their wellbeing. We want to remain on top of the virus in the community also. Everybody is pulling together, the HSE, the hospital group, and communities. We are all trying to pull together to do our best."