UPDATED: ICU surge taste of pressures to come as COVID restrictions ease

Ian Bushnell 7 October 2021
Deputy CHO Dr Vanessa Johnston

Deputy CHO Dr Vanessa Johnston said the unvaccinated would experience more severe illness than the vaccinated. Photo: Max O’Driscoll.

UPDATED 2:50 pm: Today’s surge in patients admitted to the intensive care unit is not unexpected given the increase in cases but underlines the planning underway to cope with coming pressures and the importance of being fully vaccinated.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said Canberra Health Services was expecting up to 30 admissions to hospital and 10 to the ICU over the next few weeks from within the ACT and the region.

“That will leave an impact on our ICU capacity, there is no doubt about that,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT would not be influenced by today’s further easing of limits in NSW and would stick to the path forward the government had outlined.

She said the ACT still needed to be cautious.

“We’re still not at 70 per cent [vaccination] of the eligible population, let alone at 80 per cent which is the real benchmark for that vaccination rate to make a real difference in terms of transmission and illness across the community,” she said.

Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said there was a trend towards more cases and those who were not vaccinated would experience more severe illness than the vaccinated.

“That is the primary job of the vaccine, to prevent severe disease and hospitalisation,” she said.

Interim Canberra Health Services CEO Dave Peffer said that of the 100 admissions to hospital so far in this outbreak only 5 per cent were fully vaccinated, and of the 19 admitted to ICU, not one was fully vaccinated.

“That’s the story we see unfolding around the country, around the world,” he said.

While there is an ostensible 20-patient capacity in the ICU, there were plans in place to meet the greater demand, including satellite ICU wards and standing up the Garran Surge Centre if needed.

“It’s not just for COVID patients, we’ve got business as usual activities that continue, people require surgery and they need that treatment to continue,” he said.

“And that’s part of the challenge. It not just focusing on the COVID response but keeping the engine running within the broader health system as that escalates.”

The ACT also has to consider the intake of patients from NSW, especially with that state accelerating its opening up under its new premier.

Five of those in hospital are from NSW, including two in the ICU.

“We expect to see our share of patients from the region, that’s what we’ve planned for,” Mr Peffer said.

“As part of the government consideration of the pathway out of lockdown, that’s been undertaken very closely looking at hospital capacity, what we think the system will be able to respond to, to do safely, and while managing a level of disruption to our business as usual activities that we think is sustainable over those months.”

Mr Peffer said there was a plan for activating the Surge Centre but it was not as simple as the number of admissions triggering the standup.

“There is a range of factors that we have to consider,” he said.

“Within our emergency departments we do have declared red zones as you can appreciate working in full PPE and a much higher level of deep cleaning going on. It does start to slow down our ability to move people into and out of hospital, discharge from emergency, move them through and admit them as well.

“These are the factors we consider when we look at what capacities we need and what physical infrastructure we’ll need to deploy.

“We haven’t made a decision when that right time would be.”

It is believed the total ICU capacity, including the Surge Centre beds, is 100.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith at this morning’s COVID-19 briefing: ICU capacity will be impacted. Photo: Max O’Driscoll.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: There are 41 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT, including another baby in the Centenary Hospital Special Care Nursery.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith told today’s briefing that a team member in the nursery has also tested positive. Two carers who visited the unit are now also associated with the growing cluster.

Fourteen of the new cases are linked, including 11 household contacts, while 24 are still being investigated, although the Minister said this relatively high level of ongoing investigations is due to many of the notifications coming in late yesterday.

Just seven people were in quarantine during their entire infectious period, and five spent at least part of their time in the community and may present a risk of transmission.

“This is another reminder that we’re likely to see cases go up and down and overall numbers increase as restrictions ease,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“Following the current health directions is very important as we get through to the second vaccination doses.”

The number of people in hospital has grown steadily over the past week. There are now 15 people in hospital, including four NSW residents.

Seven people are in intensive care and six are being ventilated. Eleven of the hospital patients are unvaccinated and four have had one dose of vaccine.

She said investigations into the source of the Centenary Hospital cluster are continuing and other cases may emerge. At the moment, 28 Canberra Health Services team members are in quarantine.

One baby is now in a COVID ward and although the Minister was unable to provide further details about the condition of both babies, in line with overall privacy policies, neither was in a critical condition.

“Given some media commentary yesterday, I want to note that the Special Care Nursery and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are not the same thing,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“This issue is being expertly handled and people can feel safe to attend the hospital if they require care”.

Many of the new cases overall are linked to household members and close contacts cases, including infections linked to children who are not required to wear masks and cannot currently be vaccinated. Childcare and construction sites are among the most common initial sources of infection, which then transmit to household contacts.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said that the outbreak now totals 1107 and 63 per cent of all cases have now recovered. There are 407 active cases being managed and more than 3500 tests were carried out yesterday.

On the vaccination front, 96 per cent of Canberrans have now had their first dose.

“I’m incredibly proud we’re on track to be one of the most vaccinated cities in the world,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

More than 70 per cent of the 16-plus population is now fully vaccinated, but because the ACT has elected to count the entire 12-plus population in our totals, it will take several more days to reach the 70 per cent benchmark for full vaccination.

ACT Policing has reported a good level of compliance across the Territory.

Yesterday, 70 in-person compliance checks were carried out and 467 drivers were stopped. Nobody was directed to leave the ACT and no infringements or cautions were issued.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 41 new cases of COVID-19 and a second baby has tested positive at the Special Care Nursery at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

Two carers visiting the Special Care Nursery have also tested positive, bringing the cluster to five.

Yesterday the ACT had 28 new cases and a woman in her 70s died at Calvary Haydon aged care facility.

Of the new cases, 14 are linked to known cases or clusters and 24 are under investigation. However, it is believed more cases may be linked to known clusters.

Seven of the new cases were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; five spent some time in the community.

There are 15 patients in hospital with COVID, including seven in ICU and six require ventilation.

Eleven of the 15 are unvaccinated and four have had one dose.

More than 3500 tests were conducted yesterday.

NSW recorded 587 new cases and eight deaths. Five of the deceased were unvaccinated, one person had received one dose and two people with underlying health conditions were double vaccinated. The youngest was a man in his 20s who tested positive after his death.

Yesterday there were 594 cases and 10 deaths in NSW.

Victoria has recorded 1638 new Covid cases and two deaths.

Yesterday there were 1420 new cases and 11 deaths.

Centenary Hospital

At least one new COVID case has been linked to the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children. Photo: ACT Government.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says there could be two more positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children. Yesterday she announced a baby had contracted the virus in the special care unit.

“Today we will probably be announcing one if not two additional positive cases [at the hospital], so that is becoming a cluster,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said investigations were ongoing and it was still not known how the baby, who has been moved to a COVID ward, contracted COVID-19.

The area has been deep cleaned and people had been identified as potential close contacts and tested.

Ms Stephen-Smith reassured visitors that the hospital was a safe environment.

“There is ongoing work with our infection prevention and control team, as well as public health, to ensure all appropriate steps have been taken,” she said.

“This is a specific area, but obviously, any other interactions with staff are being fully investigated so that any potential contacts can be identified.”

The Magistrates Court, another construction site and a motorcycle dealer are among the exposure locations listed on the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website this morning.

There are no close contact sites named.

The waiting areas for Magistrates Court 1 and 2 are named casual contact sites, the first from last Friday between 9:45 am to 11:55 am, and the latter from Thursday, 1 October between 10:40 am and 12:45 pm.

The construction site at Ian Potter House in the city on 28 September from 7 am to 4 pm is also a casual contact site, as is the TeamMoto Canberra & MCAS Superstore in Fyshwick, which is listed from 30 September between 2 pm and 3 pm.

Supermarkets include Aldi in Chisholm from last Saturday, Coles in Belconnen also from Saturday and Woolworths Metro in Hawker on 25, 28 and 29 September.

Bus routes 5, 58, 73 74, 75, 76 and 78, all on the southside from last week, are casual exposure locations.

Two medical practices include Hobart Place in the city from 28 September and Ochre Medical Centre in Kingston from 29 September.

The Priceline Pharmacy at Gungahlin Marketplace is named for 30 September and 1 October, and Specsavers at South.Point in Tuggeranong from 26 September.

Takeaway store Ali Baba Erindale is named from last Friday between 6:25 pm and 7:20 pm.

Check the COVID-19 website for the full list of exposure locations and times.


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