Intensive care treatment of severe coronavirus cases can last several weeks, heightening the need for the public to follow guidelines – since Thursday evening a government order – to remain home where at all possible, to avoid overloading hospital intensive care units, according to one expert.
Jaan Sütt, President of the Estonian Medical Association (Arstide liit) told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Thursday night that those who have already been entering intensive care after contracting coronavirus will need treatment for several weeks.
"Around the end of last week, the first patients came in. Experience has shown that nothing will happen in five to six days, and most likely they will continue to be treated over the next week. This means that these patients will be in intensive care for several weeks, and will occupy the intensive care units," he said.
"This is what the people need to know - although we have quite a few intensive care units and we have added more as we prepared for the pandemic, the nature of the disease is such that it will take away those existing places for a very long time. Those individuals who fall ill today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, may be in our intensive care units in a week or two, and those people who fall ill in the future may no longer find places available, because the intensity of the illness is very, very long."
"This is why there has been a lot of communication lately by medical staff that people must stay at home and let us do our jobs, so that if you ever need help, you'll have a place here in the hospital too," Sütt went on.
Around 100 people likely in intensive care in Estonia next week
Sütt said by the most optimistic estimates, there will be about 100 patients in intensive care in Estonia by the end of next week, which is more-or-less maximum capacity for the healthcare system.
"You simply can't leave home because, if you are to want the [intensive care] help you will need later, it follows that in a week or two, when the peak of the disease should arrive in Estonia /.../ according to analysis, the flood of patients to the hospital will be such that our medical system will be struggling to handle it, "he stressed.
At present there are 34 people hospitalized with coronavirus, according to Health Board data, though the majority of these are currently not in intensive care. Six of these are in a critical condition at the moment.
Hospitalization is required in cases of severe respiratory failure, Sütt said, which can lead to intensive care needs if oxygen shortages lead to organ failures.
"This means that the body does not get enough oxygen, and then all other organ systems can be damaged. The cases we treat in intensive care are unfortunately very often multiple organ failure," he went on.
"The main complaints people have before going to hospital are a shortness of breath of maybe pain when breathing, or a very severe cough."
"These are the main symptoms for which an ambulance or emergency department is called," Sütt added.
Serious situation, time is short, but solutions can be found
Although some doctors have also been in quarantine due to exposure to the coronavirus, the vast majority of doctors are now prepared for a greater flood of patients.
"There is no major crisis at the moment, but since this outbreak in Estonia is still at a relatively early stage, what may come in a week or two is what really worries us," Sütt said.
"This is also the time where those in charge still have the time to find a solution. I believe this will be found. I wouldn't want to sow panic. This is definitely a serious problem and it worries me, but we are taking it day by day and try to solve it, "Sütt said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte