Epidemiological overview: Need for hospitalizations beginning to slow

Room at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH).
Room at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH). Source: Jürgen Randma/Government Office

A rapid drop in the number of infections with the COVID-19 virus among children and young people will quickly result in a reduction in infections across other age groups as well, as a result of which fewer people will end up hospitalized with the virus a week or two from now, according to the Health Board's latest weekly epidemiological overview.

The infection rate among the elderly age group has currently stabilized, with the reproduction number (R) remaining steady at 0.95.

The average number of hospitalizations over a seven-day period stood at 74.7, indicating a drop of 5.9 percent on week. A total of 565 people were hospitalized during the eighth week of 2022, or 7.2 percent fewer people than during the week before.

As of Monday, 679 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, 25 of whom were in intensive care. February 21 saw the highest number of new hospitalizations of any one day since the beginning of the pandemic, with 113 patients admitted with the virus.

Over the past four weeks, the proportion of patients over the age of 60 among hospitalized patients has increased, and as of the end of the eighth week of 2022 accounted for 81.9 percent of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

As of Monday, the average age of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 was 72 years.

Since February 2020, a total of 736 patients have needed to be placed on ventilators, accounting for 4.4 percent of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

As of Monday, 25 patients were under intensive care, including 13 patients for symptomatic COVID-19 — 11 of whom were unvaccinated and two of whom were vaccinated. Of patients under intensive care, 15 were on ventilators, including seven patients with symptomatic COVID-19 — six of whom were unvaccinated and one of whom was vaccinated. The average age of patients needing to be placed on a ventilator was 64.4 years.

According to sequencing data, omicron accounts for approximately 97.5 percent of strains currently circulating in Estonia, 56.9 percent of which in turn are the omicron BA.2 subvariant.

Researchers have currently taken a wait-and-see position, but initial research indicates that the BA.2 subvariant spreads some 30 percent faster, while vaccine effectiveness remains similar to effectiveness against the initial omicron variant. The number of patients requiring hospitalization in connection with the omicron variant of COVID-19 is on the rise.

Hospitals still operating at limits

Despite the slight decrease in new COVID cases and hospitalizations, hospitals in Estonia are still operating at their limits, Hanna Sepp, director of the Health Board' Department of Infectious Diseases, said at a press conference held with Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) on Wednesday.

Sepp noted that the decrease has been caused by a decrease in testing around Independence Day.

"We can see the first signs of stabilization in the numbers of people who need hospitalizations, but it's important to understand that this stabilization has occurred at a very high level, and hospitals are currently working at their limits," she explained.

The department director highlighted that in addition to high numbers of patients, hospital staff are being infected as well. "If we end up in a situation where even more COVID-19 beds need to be added, this will all be at someone else's expense, and this would mean an even larger-scale curbing of planned care," she said.

"The number of ambulance dispatches has gone up as well, and infections are a problem among emergency medical service personnel as well," Sepp said, adding that EMS brigades have been exceptionally authorized to work in two-person teams at the moment.

Kiik said that the protein-based Nuvaxovid vaccine produced by Novavax has also arrived in Estonia and may be a suitable alternative for anyone who was skeptical of mRNA COVID vaccines.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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