COVID-19 beds fill as viral pressure rises in France

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MARSEILLE, FRANCE – The five intensive care beds dedicated to COVID patients are in use at the Laveran military training hospital in Marseille, and its doctors are preparing to do more. It’s a small ward in a mid-sized hospital, but what’s going on here reflects the increasing pressure on medical facilities across France as infections reappear.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned on Friday that the viral situation “is clearly getting worse” in the country.

“For the first time in many weeks, we are seeing a substantial increase in the number of people hospitalized,” Castex said.

Medical staff at Laveran Hospital are preparing to enter the COVID zone, hook patients up to monitors and tubes for hydration, food and medication, and meet frequently to discuss their prognosis.

While the daily number of cases in France rebounded as the summer holidays relaxed viral vigilance, the number of infected patients in hospitals and intensive care units remained low and stable for several weeks. Until now.

Doctors in Marseille – the country’s last viral hotspot – began sounding the alarm this week. The 70 intensive care beds dedicated to patients infected with the virus in the second largest city in France and in the surrounding region of Bouches-du-Rhône were all occupied on Tuesday. The number of patients with the ICU virus in the region has doubled in the past 10 days and now exceeds 100.

“The start of the summer has been relatively calm but in recent weeks there has been a further rise,” Laveran chief medical officer Pierre-Yves said. He can only be identified by his first name according to military policy. “What is happening here is exactly like what is happening in other hospitals in the region. ”

Hospitals in the region are reactivating the emergency measures put in place when the pandemic first hit, to ensure they are able to handle growing new cases. Since they have outgrown COVID-specific intensive care units, they are placing people in units intended for patients not infected with the virus.

“In March, April and May, we were able to absorb the epidemic wave by abandoning other hospital care activities, and today, the challenge is to be able to continue to treat all the other patients while being able to cope with the epidemic, ”said Pierre-Yves. The Associated Press Thursday, describing it as a battle on two fronts.

Overall, French authorities say they are better prepared this time around than in March, when infections quickly exploded and the military intervened to transport patients and build France’s very first peacetime field hospital. At least 30,800 people infected with the virus have died in hospitals or nursing homes in France, among the highest death rates in the world.

At Laveran Hospital, doctors and nurses appeared calm and studying as the now full COVID ward approached. They ditched their surgical masks for superior protective masks, strapped to a plastic helmet and slipped into disposable plastic gowns.

A team of nurses turned an intensive care patient onto her stomach to relieve pressure on her lungs, adjusting the tubes attached to her back and monitoring her vital signs.

Amid it all, a nurse took a few minutes to brush the patient’s thick black hair, then several more minutes to hydrate her body – an example of how medical staff not only keep patients alive, but also treats them in a trivial way. ways you wouldn’t expect to see when survival is at stake.

Among the new patients infected with the virus, Pierre-Yves said: “Some are older but not all. There are also adults aged 50 to 60 with risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, all of which we saw in the first wave before. . ”

Unlike spring, France is now carrying out massive testing, which is why the number of cases is increasing so rapidly. Authorities reported 9,843 new cases on Thursday – the country’s biggest one-day jump since the start of the pandemic.

The number of people in intensive care with the virus is now at its highest level since June, but with 615 people nationwide, it is still a fraction of the more than 7,000 patients with the virus in ICUs in the spring.

Epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana, director of the Irsan research institute, argues that this suggests the virus is in decline.

“The fact that there are no more seriously ill people is explained by the dynamics of the epidemic itself – in other words, it has taken its natural course, like all epidemics”, a- he told the AP. “The entire population is not likely to get sick. Only part of the population can be seriously ill and even die. ”

In a speech urging the public to remain “vigilant, the French prime minister said on Friday that the isolation time required for people who test positive or possibly exposed to the virus would be reduced from 14 days to seven days. Castex said the decision was made because the first week is “when there is a real risk of contagion” and to better ensure compliance.

French health officials argued this week that the two-week self-quarantine and self-isolation periods were not well respected by many in the country who felt it was too long.

Castex also announced that virus testing centers will be set up to provide faster results to medical workers, people with symptoms and those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive.

French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged on Thursday that “the virus is circulating widely,” but said new measures would aim to allow French people to “live with the virus” – including keeping children in school.

France reopened all of its schools for in-person lessons last week and many parents have returned to work as the government tries to revive the economy without creating a new health crisis.

As the central government tries to avoid a new nationwide lockdown, officials are instead focusing on local action. Regional authorities in Marseille on Wednesday ordered bars and restaurants to close prematurely and banned unauthorized gatherings of more than 10 people.

Other regions are monitoring Marseille closely, fearing that they too will see a similar situation in the coming weeks.

Laveran’s chief medical officer says preparation and coordination are essential: “We have to stay ahead of the game. “

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