Popov: Spike in case rate to reach hospitals in one and a half weeks

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Dr Arkadi Popov was among the first doctors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in Tallinn on December 27. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Hospitals need to prepare for the worst in roughly a fortnight's time as there is a displacement between the coronavirus case rate and hospitalization going up, head of the West Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH) Arkadi Popov said on the ETV "Esimene stuudio" talk show on Thursday. Preparations need to be made at the expense of planned treatment.

"I think that hospitals need to prepare for the worst in a few week' time. Recent experience suggests the number of people who need to be hospitalized will start growing a few weeks after new cases spike – a matter of a week and a half, I believe," Popov said.

Doctors keep in touch with colleagues in different hospitals on a daily basis to send patients where free beds are available. Ambulances have been used to move patients to Pärnu, Rapla and Rakvere in cases where wards have been full or closed in the capital.

All Tallinn hospitals are making preparations for the virus to escalate by opening new Covid wards. LTKH will be closing its urology ward and redirecting the staff to take care of COVID-19 patients. Planned treatment has been dialed back in surgery and other wards.

Popov said he is aggrieved by the fact so many in the medical profession have not gotten vaccinated because a single nurse or caregiver who has not been vaccinated is enough for an entire ward to be quarantined.

That said, medical professionals are still the most vaccinated group, with 55-80 percent inoculated depending on where they work. Teachers will be the second most vaccinated group. Hospitals are capable of ramping up the pace of immunization, while vaccines are still in short supply.

Popov considers the new restrictions sufficient provided people stick to them.

"They are effective enough to stop the number of cases from spiking. I very much hope we will see a more positive trend. The question is whether we needed to wait this long to introduce these measures," Popov said.

He recalled that hospitalization even went down after the case rate plateaued leading up to early February and that LTKH even discussed whether to cut the number of Covid beds.

"However, that situation lasted for a week before it started going up again. That was a few weeks ago now, it was menacing enough and should have merited a reaction," Popov found. "It progressed quickly from there. The most important indicators are the number of people hospitalized and the mortality rate. If both are out hand, reactions must be swift and decisive."

Maardu has the highest case rate today (over 3,000 cases per 100,000 residents in two weeks) and lacks a Covid testing station.

Popov said that it needs to be kept in mind that the actual number of patients is lower than the ratio in small places like Maardu. That said, he believes a testing site should have been set up in Maardu as soon as the case rate started inching upwards. The situation in Northern Estonia no longer makes it possible to stay on top of people's close contacts.

"People who are believed to be infected are contacted, while it has become impossible to keep tabs on all close contacts. Do we need to keep testing people very actively in a situation where the information is useless," Popov rhetorically asked.

Most people are infected at home and at work. Popov said that infection is virtually impossible to prevent inside families as people become infectious two days before symptoms appear. Infection at work is probably down to failure to wear a mask indoors and keeping up with colleagues. People should avoid close contact with those they do not work in the same room with if at all possible – they should limit their interactions when getting lunch or coffee to people with whom they share a workspace anyway. This can be ensured primarily by employers by keeping an eye on the workplace and motivating colleagues.

Popov regards switching schools to remote study to be a necessary measure as the infection is widespread among young people.

The LTKH director said he hopes normality will be restored in June.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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