Coronavirus wards at four of Israel’s largest hospitals are full

COVID-19 department at fifth medical center nearing full capacity; healthcare system also experiencing general strain; ministry reports 3 more virus deaths, raising toll to 473

Medical staff in the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center unit, in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Medical staff in the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center unit, in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Coronavirus wards at four of Israel’s largest hospitals are full, with a fifth nearing total capacity, according to the Health Ministry, as the number of serious COVID-19 cases in the country continued to rise, placing a strain on the healthcare system.

The Health Ministry also recorded general overload in the hospitals, with two major Jerusalem medical centers and the largest hospitals in Tel Aviv and nearby Ramat Gan operating near or above full capacity.

According to the Health Ministry, over 700 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized around the country, including 317 listed in serious condition, about one-third of whom are on ventilators.

The ministry said Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem was operating at 120 percent capacity while its virus treatment department was at 152% capacity. At Shaare Zedek Medical Center, also in the capital, wards were at 104% capacity and the virus department at 106%, the ministry said.

In Tel Aviv, the Ichilov Medical Center was at 104% capacity, with 110% for its virus department, and Sheba Medical Center, the country’s largest hospital, was at 99.56% capacity with 90% of its coronavirus department filled.

Another hospital, Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, was at 66.89% of its maximum capacity but its virus ward was at 110%.

Earlier on Monday, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center said it could no longer receive new arrivals at its emergency room and sent them instead to its Mount Scopus campus. It later announced it was again accepting arrivals and it was not clear if the incident was due to coronavirus loads.

Adding to the burden on the hospitals is the number of staff forced into quarantine after being exposed to the virus. Hadassah Ein Kerem has 103 staff members in quarantine, Shaare Zedek 93, Assaf Harofeh 86, and Ichilov 78, ministry figures showed.

According to the data, in total there are 3,069 medical staff in quarantine, of whom 468 are doctors, 861 nurses, and the remaining 1,740 are other medical workers.

There were 738 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, Health Ministry figures showed. Of those, 317 were in serious condition including 104 on ventilators. On Sunday, 1,039 new patients were diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The national death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 473 on Monday as the ministry announced three more deaths since its previous evening’s update.

Magen David Adom ambulance crew wearing protective clothing after delivering a man suspected of infection with the coronavirus to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2020.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Every day we receive 14 new coronavirus patients and release a similar number in order to keep up with the pace,” Prof. Galia Rahav head of the Infectious Disease Unit at the Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 12 news.

She said the coronavirus wards and the regular wards were both burdened. “We constantly have to think of new ways to find space for everyone. The feeling is that we are making a mockery of the work,” she said.

Rahav said that as winter approaches, there will be an increased number of flu patients hospitalized with pneumonia, adding to the difficulties.

Screen capture from video of Prof. Galia Rahav head of the Infectious Disease Unit at the Sheba Medical Center. (YouTube)

“From one day to the next we already can see that we have no room — and alongside that we have medical staff in quarantine which is another challenge,” she said.

Rahav said that although the Health Ministry had changed the definitions of a cured patient, enabling some to be released earlier from quarantine if they have not shown symptoms for several days, there was still “a big mess” on the ground.

“We, as a medical team that cares about public health, do not feel comfortable releasing from quarantine a patient whose test result is positive and may infect others and eventually lead to increased workload in the wards,” she said.

Rahav said the solution was to create more positions for doctors and nurses to take up the workload.

The deputy director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Sefi Mendlovicz, told the station that some virus patients were sent to other hospitals because there was no room.

“There isn’t a moment of rest,” he said.

The hospital is waiting for approval to set up a new coronavirus unit, which will be built without drawing on resources from the main hospital, the report said.

Assaf Harofeh director Osnat Levtzion-Korach said that if another 30 virus patients arrive at the hospital it will create a serious challenge. The hospital currently has 60 COVID-19 patients, but if the number rises above 90 it will require moving some of the patients to other departments.

Screen capture from video of Assaf Harofeh Medical Center director Osnat Levtzion-Korach. (YouTube)

That, she said, “will have implications of deferring surgery in other medical areas.”

She said government hospitals, like hers, need an immediate budget increase.

“Cash must be transferred to the system in order that we be able to deal with the increase in [virus] infections,” she said.

Israel has been struggling to contain a resurgence of the virus that began after a national lockdown applied earlier in the year was gradually lifted.

Last week, Israel’s newly appointed coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said that he opposes ordering another lockdown and would only do so if the medical system became overburdened with virus patients.

The Health Ministry update also showed that 11,343 virus tests were analyzed on Monday of which 9.2% were positive, up from the 7.6% the day before and the highest rate for the past seven days. It said 12,119 tests were carried out Sunday, down from the 15,470 the day before and 24,394 a day before that.

Testing levels typically drop significantly over the weekend but previously had risen again on Sundays.

The ministry has not offered an explanation for the steady fall in testing over the past few days.

Widespread testing combined with swift epidemiological assessments is seen as a key strategy in curbing the virus spread by ensuring those who may have been exposed to the virus enter self-quarantine before they can possibly infect others.

As of Monday morning, there had been 62,626 people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel since the start of the outbreak, of whom 27,077 have recovered.

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