The Taranaki District Health Board has a Covid ‘surge’ plan in place that would enable it to cater for nine ventilated ICU patients and up to 60 in-patients.
The province is on tenterhooks following a positive wastewater test in Stratford last week.
So far more than 1000 swabs have been taken with 600 of those coming back negative, and the region is still waiting the results of follow up wastewater testing.
TDHB chief operating officer Gillian Campbell told RNZ she was confident it could cope if a community outbreak was confirmed.
She said the public health unit had done Taranaki-specific modelling for the first 100 days of an outbreak in the region which gave reason for optimism.
“That shows that our peak number of admissions will be seven with two into ICU, which we’re more than capable of managing.”
Daily infections in the model, which has looked at the Auckland and Waikato experiences, peaks at 32 about day 70, the first person is admitted to hospital on day 20 and the first ICU patient on day 55.
The model assumes that over the 100-day period double vaccination rates will climb from 60 percent to 90 percent of the eligible population.
The DHB’s most recent update on vaccination rates on Thursday said that 68 percent of the eligible population had been double jabbed while 85 percent had received one dose. For Māori those figures were 48 and 69 percent respectively.
Campbell said the DHB had a plan should the number of infections exceed those in the model.
“And that would enable for us to have six ventilated patients – so, true ICU patients – at any time and then surge into a split red and green ICUs and use another area in our theatre area and actually be able to manage nine ventilated patients.”
Campbell said space for Covid patients on the wards could also be expanded.
“If the surge gets to the higher end of the predictions both our medical wards can be turned into fully negative-pressure Covid wards, so they’ve got 60 beds.”
The current modelling pales compared to what had been envisaged in 2020.
“We had been planning that we would be at capacity [nine ventilated patients] when you saw what was happening internationally which is all we had to go on. We knew we would be under pressure to manage the numbers coming in if there had been a full community outbreak.”
Campbell said that medical professionals now knew a lot more about Covid-19 than in 2020 in terms of how to manage the virus and the treatment options meaning the impact of a community outbreak would not be so extreme now.
In 2020, the DHB had made provision to store bodies off-site in refrigerated shipping containers, but their use now was not expected – although they would still be on call.
“We have a morgue on site here, so we can look after bodies here, and last year we worked with the funeral directors around how we would transfer patients, and there is an escalation plan around storage of bodies if we got to that point.
“However, what’s looking likely at the moment is those plans won’t need to be put in place … that’s obviously storage in refrigerated containers though certainly not on-site at the hospital.”
Campbell said an outbreak of the size modelled could have a serious impact on staffing.
“You know, you get a little outbreak and you get staff stood down, there’s not huge capacity to draw on and the reality is by the time Taranaki has community cases we won’t have people to draw on, likely, from all around the country.
“So we’re having to work out how we respond as a whole health sector – not just the hospital and not just aged residential care. We are going to have to make sure we’re able to deliver for everyone even if we’ve got staff being isolated.”
Nevertheless, Campbell was confident given the modelling that the DHB would cope.
“If I just consider the hospital and planing and take an optimistic view, this is well below our capacity and capability to manage, so I think if we had an optimist view that was telling us we were going to have six ICU patients all the time then there would be reason to be really concerned.
“This is the first bit of modelling that has come out really localised including what we know now and it gives some reassurance around our capacity because even if we double this we’ve well and truly got the capability and capacity to manage.”