MARSEILLE / PARIS (Reuters) – Every day this week, Professor Dominique Rossi has convened a coronavirus crisis group as intensive care wards at Marseille hospitals fill up after a summer lull, deciding how best to distribute the beds and find additional staff.
With 95% of the 80 intensive care beds in southern Bouche du Rhône reserved for COVID-19 patients now occupied, Rossi has dusted off his pandemic peak playbook to deal with an increase in patient numbers at the epicenter of the resurgence of the coronavirus in France.
“We have returned to the work routine that we adopted in April,” Rossi, urologist at the head of the Marseille hospital medical commission, told Reuters.
France has experienced one of the strongest accelerations of new coronavirus infections in Western Europe since mid-July.
La Bouche du Rhône recorded a positivity rate – the rate at which tests reveal infection – of 14.2% on Wednesday, more than double the national rate. Health officials say a rate below 5% demonstrates control over the spread of the virus.
After eight months of treating COVID patients, doctors are refining the treatments. They take longer to move patients to intensive care and longer to intubate them, Rossi said.
But that does not prevent the districts of Marseille from filling up. At the semi-private European hospital, the head of intensive care Thomas Signouret said that half of the 20 beds in his unit are dedicated to COVID-19 patients and that eight are already occupied.
Signouret said he could increase the capacity of people with COVID by reducing the number of non-COVID beds, preventing efforts to make up for a backlog of procedures delayed since the spring. But right now it faces a staff crunch.
“Our biggest problem right now is finding additional staff,” said Signouret, interrupting his shift. “We don’t have the numbers.”
SLOWER SPREAD, ALWAYS DANGEROUS
France, like neighboring Spain, has recorded a new record number of daily infections.
But epidemiologists say the increase in testing – France currently performs around 1 million tests per week, five times more than in April – is skewing the numbers and that the virus is spreading more slowly than in the spring.
Arnaud Fontanet, who sits on the scientific council that advises the government’s response to the crisis, said new cases nationwide were doubling every 14 days compared to every 3.5 days in March.
That has left no room for complacency, he said, calling for a swift tightening of restrictions in localized hot spots. The government is due to discuss on Friday whether to impose local lockdowns. [nL8N2G718Y]
Intensive care admissions and deaths remained low in France for several weeks after cases began to rise in the summer. Both are now on the rise, although they are still well below the highs of the first wave.
The number of people taken to hospital for the disease climbed Wednesday for an 11th day, but total hospitalizations for the disease are still more than six times lower than the April 14 peak of more than 32,000. USI (599) is well below the April 8 record of 7,148.
Epidemiologists say the lower numbers in the hospital are due to the virus circulating mainly among young people, who often have no symptoms and are less vulnerable because they have fewer underlying health problems than older people.
But if the virus continues to gain momentum during the fall, it will become more difficult to protect the elderly.
At the Figuiers rest home near Nice, staff using public transport must shower on arrival and all employees are subjected to temperature checks twice a day. Plexiglass screens separating residents and visitors have been reinstalled and stocks of protective equipment built up.
Nursing home operators and health officials say lessons were learned from the onset of the first wave, when they suffered from shortages of face masks and sick staff and visitors often entered unchecked.
“If we don’t let the virus in, we won’t have to lock up our residents,” said the director of Les Figuiers, Anne-Hélène Perlo.
But the danger persists. Last weekend, more than 50 residents and employees tested positive in a 75-bed individual retirement home in the south of France.