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Landspítali on emergency footing

26.10.2020 - 15:25
COVID-ástand á Landakoti
 Mynd: Landspítali/Þorkell Þorkelsso - Ljósmynd
More people are receiving COVID-19 treatment at Landspítali national university hospital now than at any previous point in the pandemic. Over 250 hospital staff are in precautionary quarantine, and dozens are in isolation having contracted the virus. The hospital has activated its internal emergency level for the first time ever.

52 people are in Landspítali with the coronavirus; a large proportion of whom came from the Landakot gerontology department after a large outbreak struck the sensitive facility. All patients moved from Landakot are in their seventies to nineties.

At least 77 infections have been traced to this outbreak. Þórólfur Guðnason, chief epidemiologist, says it is a particularly serious outbreak. “Both its scale and then in what sort of group it hit; that is to say, this sensitive group, so this is a very serious outbreak,” Þórólfur says. “We also need to look at whether we have any consequential contagion from these cases, from staff, from relatives, and so forth.” The question of onward infection from the outbreak will directly influence whether the current assembly restrictions in the capital will be extended, or even tightened. 

The outbreak has already spread. Treatment of between 100 and 200 patients at the Reykjalundur rehabilitation centre is on hold due to the virus. Three patients with the virus arrived at Reykjalundur from Landakot last week. The majority of residents at the Sólvellir nursing home in Eyrarbakki  have the virus. One of them came from Landakot. 

“We are responding to an imminent disaster and expect we will need to look closely at whether working procedures were broken and in what way,” Már Kristjánsson, senior physician in charge of the Landspítali infectious diseases department, told RÚV.  

It is believed the infection entered Landakot with staff. “A likely scenario is that around 12th October, staff members brought the virus into Landakot,” Már says. It took ten further days until the COVID-19 diagnosis was made. Már says he does not know of any staff having shown symptoms during the intervening ten days, but that several patients did. In each case they were tested and received negative results. 

Around 250 Landspítali staff are in quarantine and all elective surgery is postponed. Már says one of the hospital’s biggest challenges today is staying staffed. Þórólfur says there is not yet a need to consider using the civil protection laws to draft people in to work at the hospital. “If the system cannot cope with it as it is organised now, then we’ll need to think of new solutions to get people working,” Þórólfur says. 

Landspítali took its current emergency response plan into use in 2006, with the elevated levels of ‘uncertainty’, ‘danger’, and ‘emergency’. The emergency level was enacted for the first time this weekend. Már explains that the emergency level is a little like ripping down all the internal walls, and making sure that specialists from all fields are on tap to help with the emergency at hand, and that beds are made available on all wards; even specialist ones like mental health, surgical wards, and the children’s hospital. 

Páll Matthíasson, the director of Landspítali, says there are three large projects underway: ensuring good services for COVID-19 patients, containing the outbreak at the hospital, and making sure that people with other problems can still count on the hospital’s services. He says the widespread outbreak took hospital managers by surprise: “Because the third wave was on the way down, this took us by surprise that this should come precisely now, but in general we always hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Páll says. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager