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Dunedin Hospital’s Covid-19 ward is now at capacity but pressure has eased at Southland Hospital, which was overloaded with Covid cases at the end of last week.
Yesterday, the southern region had one of the highest numbers of Covid hospitalisations in New Zealand, and was dealing with 39 patients who had tested positive for the pandemic disease.
Of those, 14 were in Southland Hospital, a welcome drop from the 19 cases at the facility on Friday — but a number well over the capacity of its dedicated Covid-19 ward.
However, there were 24 people with Covid-19 in Dunedin Hospital, stretching the capacity of its Covid ward to the maximum.
The remaining hospitalisation was at Lakes District Hospital.
Southern District Health Board Covid-19 response lead Hywel Lloyd said the board had not had to open its overflow space on the sixth floor of Dunedin Hospital yet, but might be compelled to if it had to deal with more Covid patients.
"We have been incredibly busy all of last week and that has continued into the weekend and one of the main issues has been staffing, both medical and nursing staff, which has made it really challenging," Dr Lloyd said.
"The Dunedin ward is full but we do still have the ability to find room for patients if need be."
However, if the sixth floor was needed, it would be a challenge to find people to staff it, Dr Lloyd said.
A busy weekend in the emergency department had added to the woes at Dunedin Hospital. The Otago Daily Times received anecdotal reports yesterday of waits of nine hours or more to be seen, and of queues of up to 30 patients at times awaiting treatment.
"We were beyond capacity but we managed to ease it a bit this morning and we have managed to do quite a few discharges today," Dr Lloyd said.
He said the majority of the southern cases were incidental infections rather than people in hospital because of Covid, but that did not lessen the added pressure caring for such patients placed on staff.
"Our staff have been amazing," Dr Lloyd said.
"We have had a lot of absence through sickness. They keep being asked to come back early, but they constantly step up and care for the community.
"It takes a number of staff to look after people with Covid, and you have to put on and and take off the required personal protection equipment when doing so."
The South reported 519 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday and 344 new cases yesterday.
Nationally, 6635 cases were reported on Saturday and 4990 new cases yesterday.
There were 16 deaths of people with Covid-19 reported over the weekend, two in the southern region.
Dr Lloyd said the large number of cases in the South confirmed that the "long tail" after the peak in new cases of Covid-19 was being very persistent, and the region might not yet have reached its peak in Covid hospitalisations.
"The long tail is very much causing us problems and it looks like it will continue for some time. We are expecting our admissions to increase again around August and September."
Adding to the issues facing stretched doctors and nurses was the expectation of a worse-than-usual influenza season this winter.
More than 160 cases had already been seen at Dunedin Hospital and about 10 people a day were presenting with an influenza-like illness, Dr Lloyd said.
"We are encouraging people to take leave because we are expecting a very challenging winter and people do need to take a break."