17th March 2022
UK COVID Deaths – Daily average 107
Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 163,248
Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 185,273 (up to 4 Mar)
James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 818
All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 100
James Cook Critical Care
COVID cases – 0
Non-COVID cases – 48 (22 ventilated)
Well, it had to happen. COVID finally caught up with me. Ten days ago I became unwell and tested positive, both on lateral flow and PCR testing. I was expecting a very mild illness, and was surprised at how unwell I felt. Fortunately I’m now feeling much better and I’m due to return to work tomorrow when my period of isolation finishes.
The last time I wrote was after Nicky’s ‘false-positive’ lateral flow test. With hindsight it looks like it might have been a genuine result after all and perhaps her PCR test was inaccurate. I suspect my family went on to infect each other sequentially. After Nicky had started to recover, my youngest daughter, Sophie, became unwell. Her lateral flow tests were consistently negative and we believed she had caught the same non-COVID illness as Nicky.
However, the following week, my eldest daughter, Millie, had to undergo a PCR test as she was due to have some crowded teeth removed at the hospital. What with the pandemic, she’d been waiting over two years for her operation and we were relieved that it was finally going ahead. Alas, her pre-op PCR test came back positive despite Millie being completely asymptomatic. Looking back, it seems more and more likely that both Nicky and Sophie' infections had been due to COVID.
My parents had been due to come and stay with us the day after Millie’s operation. Obviously, with Millie testing positive we warned them off and rescheduled. Unfortunately, they arrived just as I developed symptoms and tested positive. Not surprisingly, they both went on to catch it. After spending the last two years ensuring that my parents stayed safe and COVID-free, it was horribly ironic that I was the one who finally infected them.
The only family members who remained seemingly unaffected were my son, Jamie, and the cat. Jamie’s lateral flow tests stayed negative but he may well have had an asymptomatic infection like his sister. The cat didn’t take too kindly to being lateral flow tested and so we’ll never know whether he was infected or not. Fortunately, everyone has now recovered which is a huge relief and I’m beginning to feel less guilty about infecting Mum & Dad.
For the past three weeks, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has, understandably, knocked COVID well and truly out of the news. However, the last few days have brought reports of rising infection rates, increasing numbers of people being admitted to hospital and the proliferation of the more infectious BA.2 Omicron variant. There are also ongoing reports of ‘Deltacron’ variants that have emerged in several countries. Fortunately, there is no evidence that these variants are capable of causing more severe illness than regular Omicron and so there is no cause for alarm.
Given that all of England’s remaining COVID restrictions were lifted on 24th February, a rise in cases was inevitable. Infection rates are increasing more in the elderly and there is some concern that this is due to waning immunity. This may well be partly to blame but I suspect a lot of infections are a result of the older population gradually returning to a more normal life.
Fortunately, we are still seeing very few sick COVID patients at the hospital. Omicron does not cause lung inflammation and respiratory failure in the way that its predecessors did. It does not cause secondary pneumonias like other viruses do. Simply put, Omicron doesn’t do what original COVID did. That’s not to say that a highly infectious coronavirus isn’t still a concern if you are particularly frail, elderly or at risk, but for a lot of patients, their COVID infection is not the reason they are in hospital.
The fact that Omicron is less severe is best illustrated by taking a look at Critical Care. Our units are similar to many others across the country - we don’t have any COVID positive patients. Not one. This is the first time our ICU has been COVID-free since September 2020. Things are far from quiet, but we are no busier than we would normally be at this time of year.
There are other signs that the hospital is slowly returning to normal. Patient visiting is now allowed for the first time since the pandemic began and we no longer have to wear facemasks in non-clinical areas when seated. Out of an abundance of caution, we are still required to wear full PPE when looking after COVID-negative patients on the ICU, but many of us are hopeful that this should stop soon.
When I return to work tomorrow, it will be two years to the day that the hospital admitted its first COVID patient. I remember how worried we all were about what was coming and what a difficult time it was. But remembering just how bad things were back then only makes me realise just how much better things are now.