Covid intensive care units: just the calm before the storm?

Status: 01/18/2022 08:52 a.m

The omicron wave has not yet arrived in the intensive care units. But the doctors don’t want to give the all-clear – for several reasons.

By Philipp Wundersee, WDR

They are fully booked. Every bed is currently occupied in the intensive care unit of the lung clinic in Cologne-Merheim. Christian Karagiannidis heads the Cologne Lung Center and advises the federal government on the Corona Expert Council. “We’re still at 100 percent occupancy. We actually never have a free bed here,” says the intensive care doctor, looking at the numbers on the screen in his office. “This is due to the few resources and the fact that the patients are pushing into the large lung centers like ours.”

Philip Wundersee

Almost exclusively patients are still treated here with the Delta variant. “This is due to the length of time people stay in the hospital, which is extremely long with this disease,” says Karagiannidis. “I have never seen a lung disease that is so tough and takes so long.”

As the scientific director of the Divi intensive care register, he also looks at the nationwide figures. And here the numbers are fortunately more relaxed. “We currently have around 100 new admissions to the intensive care units. We haven’t had that for a long time. That’s a good sign for the employees in the intensive care units. Fortunately, occupancy is gradually decreasing nationwide.”

“We have plans in the drawers”

Uwe Janssens has just come from the meeting of the Corona crisis team. He and his team at St. Antonius Hospital Eschweiler are advising how to deal with the coming weeks in the hospital to keep the system running. “We have plans in the drawers of what we will do if the normal wards and emergency rooms become overloaded. We assume that this week we will still have 100,000 new infections per day.”

Of these, significantly fewer end up in the intensive care units, but the stress on the normal ward will also be immense, according to the intensive care doctor. “We currently also have a stable situation in the normal wards when it comes to admitting corona patients,” says Janssens. “But that’s just the calm before the storm when we look at Omicron.” Also because many employees will become infected, says the chief physician.

“We are currently expecting a rate of ten to 30 percent of hospital staff who will become infected and then be absent in the short term.” In the end, it could mean that you have to postpone operations if it is justifiable. “This also means a significant psychological burden for patients,” he says. “We cannot yet assess the collateral damage to people’s long-term health caused by the 24-month pandemic.”

Pressure on normal stations

According to the German Hospital Society, the clinics are already feeling the first effects of the omicron wave on the normal wards through more patient admissions with Covid diseases. “We are already seeing this increase in the normal wards in some regions, for example in Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein,” says the President of the hospital association, Gerald Gass.

Karagiannidis from Cologne is also worried about exactly the problem. “We are currently seeing a spread of omicrons in the younger age groups and not yet in the over 60-year-olds. That is why we cannot give the all-clear,” says Karagiannidis. “We’ll have to wait and see when Omikron meets those over 60 and those who haven’t been vaccinated.”

In the next two weeks there will be a lot of load on the normal wards. “Staff absences are increasing significantly,” says Karagiannidis. “They also notice that the parents of positive children have to stay at home.” This will increase in the coming weeks “and continue to burden the employees in the normal wards.”

Finally retired

The normal wards are often forgotten in the discussion, criticizes Janssens. “We have a ward here in Eschweiler where the nurses have only been dealing with Covid 19 patients for 24 months.”

In October, the chief physician said goodbye to two long-standing ward managers who retired. “Both told me that the last two years on the normal ward were like nothing and that they were happy to retire,” says Janssens. In the end, they couldn’t take it anymore, even though both women had done their job with passion for decades.

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