• Richard Cree

Riding it Out?

11th January 2022

UK COVID Deaths – Daily 379 / 7-Day average 237

Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 150,609

Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 174,233 (up to 31 Dec)

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 730

All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 142

James Cook Critical Care

COVID cases – 7 (3 ventilated)

Non-COVID cases – 50 (24 ventilated)

It saddens me to report that our young COVID patient did not survive. The improvement that we had seen turned out to be short-lived and, despite our best efforts, his condition began to worsen. His death has upset all of us who looked after him and our thoughts are with his family.

At the weekend, the United Kingdom became the first country in Europe to record over 150,000 COVID deaths. The Office of National Statistics reports that there have been well over 170,000 deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. It’s difficult to visualise what a crowd of people that big looks like, but there’s no doubt that it’s an awful lot of people. Every one of these deaths will have left a grieving family in its wake and the cumulative burden of all this suffering is hard to comprehend.

Whilst the number of people who are dying following infection with COVID-19 continues to rise, there is now no doubt that the Omicron variant is far less severe than its predecessors. In many respects, this fourth wave feels like it is due to a different virus. Most of the patients who have required admission to the COVID Intensive Care Unit are relatively young and unvaccinated. The few vaccinated patients that we are admitting have either not received a booster dose or have significant existing medical problems that cause them to be immunosuppressed.

As a result, the number of patients within our COVID Intensive Care has remained relatively low, despite a significant increase in the total number of COVID patients in the hospital. Fewer of our patients are needing ventilation and this picture is similar across the country. Many of the positive patients on the wards have presented to hospital with problems unrelated to their infection.

The staff sickness rate has fallen somewhat, but the number of people currently off work due to COVID is still significant. Many of us have had to work extra shifts to cover colleagues who are testing positive and I have been surprised by just how many of our team have been infected with Omicron. Many ICU doctors and nurses will have caught the original strain back in the spring of 2020 and we have all received three doses of the Pfizer vaccine since then. Despite wearing PPE all the time, most of us will have been topping up our antibody levels every now and then as a result of inadvertent exposure. There can’t be many people with better immunity, surely? Whilst no-one has been anything other than mildly unwell, the fact that so many of us have been infected is a testament to Omicron’s remarkable transmissibility, even in a highly-immune population.

Whilst the hospital remains under significant pressure, the situation is better than it was last week. A&E has gone from being bonkers-busy to just stupid-busy. We now have four COVID wards and it is proving difficult to find a non-COVID bed when you need one but, overall, the hospital is coping.

Across the country, the number of people being admitted to hospital following infection remains high. However, the number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and the admissions may even be starting to plateau. I will admit that I thought things would be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong. We still have a busy time ahead of us but it’s looking increasingly likely that we will be able to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave after all.

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