Hospitals struggling to cope with second Covid-19 wave in Msunduzi, Midlands

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A map of Pietermaritzburg showing Covid-19 infection hotspots in mid-December. graphics24
A map of Pietermaritzburg showing Covid-19 infection hotspots in mid-December. graphics24

Hospitals are struggling to cope with a surge of Covid-19 infections in Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands.

Professor Reitze Rodseth — from Jones, Bhagwan and Partners — said he and his colleagues had seen a big spike in the number of people being treated in the intensive care units at St Anne’s Hospital, Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg and Life Hilton Hospital, in the last two weeks.

His team of specialist anaesthetists, doctors and nurses are currently caring for around 60 patients at St Anne’s, another 60 at Mediclinic and between 20 and 30 at Hilton Life.

“Two weeks ago we were looking after 15 or 16 patients in intensive care in the city. We now have 24 patients with Covid-19 just at St Anne’s Hospital. They are either on ventilators, being treated with non-invasive ventilation or high levels of oxygen,” he said.

Rodseth doesn’t know how many more are being treated at Midlands Private Hospital, day clinics or in state hospitals in the city. The Witness has learned, however, that Msunduzi continues to be a hotspot for infections.

“People are just tired of Covid and are not following health advice and that is allowing the virus to spread more easily.”
Professor Reitze Rodseth

According to a leaked report, the area has a 59% infectivity rate and has reported 476 deaths from the start of the new surge, up until December 20.

Last weekend, six patients died at Grey’s Hospital, four at Edendale Hospital, two at Northdale and eight in private hospitals. Wards 26, 28, 35 and 36 — which include Sobantu, Prestbury, Pelham, Scottsville, Northdale and Mountain Rise — are the worst affected.

The author of the report says: “Beds are filling up very quickly both in state and private.” They add that, on average, 120 tests are being conducted every day, with the highest number of tests, 194, done on December 16. Of the 1 874 tests conducted (up to December 20), 1 298 were positive.

According to the report, antigen rapid tests are being used by state hospitals to move patients under investigation out of wards more quickly; and that Applesbosch Hospital, in Etsheni, has been identified as an alternative Covid-19 hospital for Msunduzi.

Many of the patients being treated are much younger than those infected in the first wave, said Rodseth.

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“They do have co-morbidities,” he added, “some have diabetes, some are mildly overweight, but they are also definitely younger and healthier than the patients we saw before.”

He’s not sure why this is the case, but thinks it may be because the coronavirus is more broadly spread in the population. Events like Ballito Rage have also played a role in the increasing the number of those testing positive for Covid-19, as well as lockdown fatigue.

“People are just tired of Covid and are not following health advice and that is allowing the virus to spread more easily,” he said.

Rodseth and his colleagues are expecting the situation to worsen in the next 10 days to two weeks, increasing the burden on an already overstretched health service. 

To try and accommodate extra patients private hospitals have stopped all elective surgery and some semi-urgent surgery.

Despite this, hospitals in Durban started diverting patients to Pietermaritzburg earlier this week, as they had reached capacity.

“We are now looking at diverting patients to other hospitals in Ladysmith and elsewhere, but what happens when they get full?” Rodseth asked.

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He’s also concerned about how doctors, nurses and other staff at the province’s hospitals are going to cope under another wave of Covid-19.

“People are exhausted. They are feeling demoralised and they’re worried about how long this surge will last and how they are going to cope.”

The Witness approached the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health for a comment, but at the time of going to press none had been received.

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