Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is on “full war alert” over its Covid-19 situation as asymptomatic cases begin to stack up.
“Everything has been ramped up in the past two weeks,” Professor Bill Tormey, a specialist in chemical pathology at the hospital, said.
“They’re on full war alert. There’s a lot of Covid about the place and everyone is in full protective gear.”
Beaumont has had four wards closed due to outbreaks of the coronavirus in just two weeks. One of those wards, a cardiology unit, remains closed and is due to reopen on Friday.
Following the outbreak in the coronary care unit which resulted in that closure, a full screening of all staff was ordered, along with testing of so-called “98” patients - those with clear Covid symptoms who have nevertheless tested negative.
While the hospital has only one confirmed case of Covid in its Intensive Care Unit, it has capacity for just four further critical care patients.
A source in a regional hospital suggested that serious issues are expected at the ICUs in both Beaumont and the Mater Hospital in Dublin’s north inner city, with other smaller hospitals expected to offer ICU support should that happen.
That could occur within the next four to six days, the source said.
Dr Laura Durcan, a specialist in rheumatology at Beaumont, said that there has been a marked increase in patients accessing the hospital for non-Covid ailments who have subsequently tested positive for the disease.
“The challenge is keeping everyone else safe,” she said, adding that a “deal of inventiveness” is required in order to keep patients separate from each other on admission, particularly given one third of Beaumont’s private rooms do not have a bathroom.
At present the hospital has nine confirmed cases of the virus, along with a further 13 suspected of having the illness.
She said the ramping up of PPE use within the hospital’s emergency department is aimed at cutting down the number of medical staff who must isolate following a positive diagnosis for a patient.
Dr Durcan added that the hospital’s use of Genexpert testing for Covid, which can return a result inside an hour, was now being strictly rationed, meaning that patient testing could now take as long as seven or eight hours before a result is returned.
She said that “at any given day we’re pretty close to maximum ICU capacity”.
“From a Covid point of view we could easily be overwhelmed,” she said.
Beaumont is an 820-bed hospital, employing roughly 3,000 staff.