Hospitals in northern Israel are warning that the large number of COVID-19 patients is pushing them to the point at which they could be forced to send patients to hospitals in the center of the country.
Nineteen of the 33 communities ranked last week as having the highest incidence of the coronavirus are in the north.
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Hospitals in the north have also expressed concern that new evening and nighttime restrictions that are to be imposed on communities with particularly high infection rates will only show results in another two to three weeks.
A team appointed by coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu to monitor the situation in the country's hospitals has reported that the health system is still able to handle the patient loads and is far from the point of collapse. According to the most recent Health Ministry figures, 916 patients are in the hospital with COVID-19, including 449 in serious condition.
According to Prof. Masa'ad Barhoum, the director general of Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, the situation is different in the north. "When you say the situation is under control, you're taking about Israel's health care system" in general. In the north, resources are stretched to their limits, he said. "We are nearing the point at which we will have to send patients to the central region," he added, referring to the greater Tel Aviv area.
Galilee Medical Center is treating more than 30 coronavirus patients in serious condition and 30 others in mild or moderate condition. Barhoum said the hospital is prepared to open its fourth COVID-19 department any day now.
Staff at Haifa's Rambam Health Care Campus say their hospital is also dealing with major patient numbers. Dr. Khetam Hussein, the director the COVID-19 department there, said it has 58 coronavirus patients, including eight on ventilators and another 22 who require some kind of respiratory support. "The situation is difficult," she said. "We are asking the public to comply with the Health Ministry's directives and not take part in mass events."
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Elsewhere in the north, there are high patient numbers at Haemek Hospital in Afula, which is caring for 36 coronavirus patients, 12 of whom are in serious condition. The hospital opened a second COVID-19 ward two weeks ago. "In our area, there are more and more red cities, and you can feel it in the hospital," said Dr. Ziv Rosenbaum, Haemek's director, referring to the locales with the highest incidence of the virus.
"Over the past two weeks, we have very much felt the increase in the number of confirmed cases," he said. "If we have to open another coronavirus ward, I'm concerned we will have to transfer patients who don't have COVID-19 to other hospitals due to staff shortages."
Over the past two weeks, as a result of high patient numbers, a national system has been put in place by the office of coronavirus policy director Gamzu to monitor patient loads at hospitals around the country and to redirect patients to hospitals with greater available capacity.
"Patients from communiities such as Hadera, Katzir, Harish, Wadi Ara communities as well as from the Haifa area are coming to us," Rosenbaum said, referring to communities south of Haifa, "We're not in a situation of insufficient capacity. We can handle many more coronavirus patients, but that would have ramifications for other patients. And that's even before the winter arrives."
Galilee Medical Center's Barhoum said the situation at his hospital in Nahariya and at other hospitals in the north is very different than it was during the first wave of the virus in the spring.
"We hope that the lockdowns in the red communities will provide a little oxygen and allow the hospitals in the north to breathe," he said, adding that weddings and other gatherings are contributing significantly to the surge in infections, and some of the gatherings are even attended by local elected officials.