Overcrowded Israeli Hospitals Struggle With COVID Spike, and Fear Worse Is Yet to Come

The number of confirmed cases has doubled in the last week and serious cases surge, and hospitals are having to quickly open more coronavirus wards to meet the demand

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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The coronavirus ward in Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 7, 2020
The coronavirus ward in Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 7, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The surge in incidence of the coronavirus is once again leading to overcrowded hospitals, with almost 1,400 coronavirus patients hospitalized as of Tuesday, of whom 837 were severely or critically ill.

A week ago, the number of seriously ill patients was only 618.

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The mortality rate has also climbed, to an average of 25 to 30 deaths a day.

Moreover, the numbers are likely to get worse, since the virus is spreading rapidly despite the lockdown that began 10 days ago. The number of diagnosed patients has doubled within a week, to more than 8,300 as of Tuesday.

Around 7.5 percent of the roughly 112,000 tests a day are coming back positive, and the infection coefficient – the average number of people that each patient infects – is now 1.27. Some 90 percent of the people diagnosed in the last week are under 60.

Fully 27 percent of new patients as of Tuesday were ultra-Orthodox, and the infection coefficient in this community has hit 1.4 percent. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some of the most crowded hospitals are in Jerusalem. Hospitals in East Jerusalem and up north are also especially crowded.

Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem has 120 coronavirus patients, around half of them in serious or critical condition, in four coronavirus wards and two intensive care units. Prof. Dror Mevorach, who heads its coronavirus unit, said the situation is further complicated by members of the medical staff who have been sent into quarantined, “but we’re managing,” he said. Some patients were vaccinated a few days ago but hadn’t yet developed immunity.

At Haifa’s Bnei Zion Medical Center, internal medicine wards are now overcrowded because one had to be converted to a second coronavirus ward. The hospital has 55 coronavirus patients, 48 of them seriously ill, and the army recently sent reservists to help. Dr. Ohad Hochman, the hospital’s director, said he requested the army’s help due to a shortage of staff, especially nurses, in part because some have been quarantined.

Even hospitals in the center of the country are crowded. Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said it asked the Health Ministry Tuesday to redirect some of the coronavirus patients coming from nursing homes in other cities to other hospitals, due to a surge in coronavirus patients arriving at its emergency room after their situation worsened at home. It currently has 36 coronavirus patients, 15 of them seriously ill.

At Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, the situation is also “difficult,” according to Prof. Ehud Grossman, head of its internal medicine department. The hospital has three coronavirus wards and is about to open a fourth, “at the expense of an internal medicine ward. That will increase pressure on the other wards,” he said.

Incidence of the virus is now similar to what it was in late September, according to a report by five Hebrew University of Jerusalem professors that was slated to be submitted to the coronavirus cabinet Tuesday, and the restrictions imposed last week haven’t yet had a noticeable effect. “The daily death rate is rising sharply and is expected to exceed 40 deaths a day on average in the next two weeks,” it added.

Professors Yinon Ashkenazy, Doron Gazit, Ronit Calderon-Margalit, Nadav Katz and Ran Nir-Paz said the overcrowding at hospitals was likely to get even worse than it was during the second wave of the virus. If the current restrictions don’t seem to be working – something that will become clear only in another few days – waiting a week to impose new ones “could cause an additional 200 to 400 deaths,” they added.

On the bright side, they said, the vaccine drive will likely begin reducing cases of serious illness among the at-risk population by late January.

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