There are now 211 patients in ICU with Covid-19, the HSE said today, and they warned we could see more than 500 deaths for January alone.
About half of the ICU patients are ventilated, and there are an additional 300 patients receiving high-dependency respiratory support on ordinary wards.
The rapidly increasing number of new outbreaks in nursing homes is also of great concern to the HSE.
And the staffing crisis continues unabated, with 6,673 staff now out across the whole system. This includes 1,800 absent from 113 nursing homes who now face a crisis situation, according to HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor.
HSE head Paul Reid said: “We expect well over 500 deaths in January, a sad loss of life and a very sad time for many families who are grieving.
Mr Reid also addressed the controversies around vaccine distribution.
He said: “People were vaccinated in a sequence that didn’t comply with the agreed sequencing, this should not have happened, nobody should have been confused or needed further clarity in terms of the agreed sequence.”
Vaccination continues, meanwhile, with 20,600 first doses of either the Moderna or PfizerBioNTech vaccines given so far. And 1,000 of the 3,900 people who received their first shot in December have now completed their course of vaccines.
Clinical nurse manager Bernie Waterhouse spoke movingly of her 10 months so far working on a Covid-19 ward at St James Hospital.
Among the challenges she described were “the acuity of the Covid patients we are looking after on the wards; they deteriorate very quickly, they die very quickly or go to ICU very quickly.”
Days on the ward when a number of patients pass away or become so ill as to need ICU care are very difficult for the staff also, she said.
"Sometimes you can’t physically provide the care they need – they need one-to-one patient care which we can’t provide,” she said referring to staffing challenges.
A number of her colleagues are still off-duty due to the long-term effects of Covid, with some unable to work more than a few hours a day.
The staffing situation for hospitals and nursing homes was described as “a real challenge” by HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor. There were 129 hospital outbreaks up to Tuesday, including eight in Cork and one in Clare.
She also said 600 beds are currently closed nationally due to Covid-19 or other infection control issues.
And as outbreaks increase, she confirmed some nursing homes may not be able to complete their vaccinations before Sunday. However she could not say how many homes may be affected.
Anyone who has Covid-19 cannot be vaccinated while ill, and must also wait four weeks after recovery before getting the vaccine.