Most of the hospitalized patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) in hospitals in Tallinn and Pärnu come from Saaremaa but on Thursday an order was introduced which means patients must now be taken to the nearest hospital. There are also fears there may be a surge in cases on the island in the coming weeks.
The previous rule meant the most serious coronavirus cases were taken to the four hospitals in Estonia which specialize in treating diseases which are in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu or Jõhvi. From now on patients will be taken to the closest hospital instead unless they in critical condition.
Edward Laane, chief of care at Kuressaare Hospital, said there should be six or seven patients from the island in hospitals on the mainland.
Laane fears the peak of the virus in Saaremaa has not yet been reached. Given the two-three week incubation time, a surge of sick people may hit Saaremaa in the coming days.
"We were afraid that this flow of patients would start from yesterday or today, but that does not mean that it will not start, for example, tomorrow. We are currently preparing to have the hospital ready if it is needed," says Laane.
Kuressaare Hospital can accommodate up to 20 coronavirus patients in need of hospital treatment. The hospital has already separated one ward to accommodate patients with suspected coronavirus in hospital. As of Friday morning, there are five patients in this ward. One of these samples was found to be positive, while others are still awaiting responses.
No overview of infected
As the conditions to qualify for being tested for COVID-19 have been tightened the hospital has lost sight of the actual state of the virus's epicenter. Currently, only those from risk groups or with a doctor's referral are being tested.
"We don't know how many new cases we have every day, because testing is now minimal. After all, we were virtually banned from doing it," says Laane.
On Tuesday this week the hospital test 22 people, 43 on Wednesday and 33 on Thursday.
A total of 436 people have been tested in Saaremaa, so far there are 417 results of which 103 of which have been positive. This means a 25 percent of cases have been positive which is above the average for the rest of Estonia.
Across Estonia 2,504 have been carried and there have been a total of 283 cases, as of Friday morning.
The average carrier of the coronavirus diagnosed in Saaremaa is a middle-aged person.
"But when you look at the population as a whole, a lot of young people have tested positive. The hospital is more likely to see older people [with the disease]," says Laane.
He cites, for example, Madis Kallas, the mayor of Saare County and the head of the crisis center, a young man whose test a few days ago also proved positive.
"Kallas had very few symptoms and considered himself healthy. If, for example, such an apparently healthy person goes to a nursing home, there will be big consequences," he said. Laane believes more extensive testing should be carried out.
Laane also questioned who should really be considered a risk group: an 80-year-old who sits at home anyway, or a 20-year-old who may not realize that they are ill, who then visits the 80-year-old.
"We still consider ourselves to be one of the epicenters of the virus. My personal opinion is that given the epidemiological situation in Saaremaa: the more we can test, the better," Laane said.
Currently, the hospital is only allowed to take samples from suspect medical practitioners who are already working in the hospital, not from members of the public.
A drive-in testing center was set up outside the hospital on Friday from 2pm, but it operates separately from the hospital. Anyone with a referral from a family doctor can now get tested for the disease.
The hospital hopes that it will be possible to purchase virus testing kits to start a spontaneous diagnosis. If a quick test is approved, there are plans to obtain them as well.
The hospital has received donations of € 11,000 from individuals and companies and this money could be partly used to purchase the tests.
Editor: Helen Wright