Berlin (dpa) – After the first tentative decline in the pandemic, the number of corona patients in German intensive care units has risen again.
With more than 3000 beds occupied, the load is currently again as high as during the peak times of the first wave in the spring of 2020. This can be found in the register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi).
“We are now entering the third wave in intensive care units and at a very high level. We had already warned about this at the end of February and that is of great concern to us, ”said Divi president Gernot Marx. According to data from Divi, 3,056 Covid 19 patients were treated in German intensive care units on Sunday. “We expect a rapid increase in the number of patients in the coming weeks, as the wave of intensive care patients always follows the wave of infections for two to three weeks,” he added. The numbers can therefore only be changed from mid-April.
With incidents of about 200 infections in seven days per 100,000 population, emergency doctors predict about 5,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units in early May. That would be nearly as many as at the peak of the second wave in early January and could again be a heavy burden for many clinics.
The good news: If there is no new, more dangerous mutant and the vaccination goes well, the pandemic could be all but over by August for the emergency departments of the clinics, according to the current forecast.
Experts don’t want to take the situation lightly. “We can already see that in intensive care units, patients there are changing: they are getting younger,” said Lars Schaade, vice president of the Robert Koch Institute. Virologists have also repeatedly warned that vaccination of the oldest cohorts alone does not induce relaxation. Because even in the first wave, only about a quarter of intensive care patients were over 80 years old. Many retirement home residents died in their facilities and were not even sent to intensive care units.
The Robert Koch Institute counts 21.6 million people in Germany in the high-risk group for severe Covid-19 courses. The institute considers the risk to be greatly increased for people over 65 years of age or with certain pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease or the most severe form of obesity.
“With nearly 6,000 patients at a time, Covid is by far the toughest and strongest wave in the intensive care unit,” said Christian Karagiannidis, scientific director of the Divi intensive care registry. The current number of over 3000 does not count for the Divi as a magic limit from where the system automatically starts to overload. Karagiannidis emphasized that this order of magnitude can be supplied. “The more the number increases, the more other areas need to be limited to ensure emergency care.”
Rising numbers also affect clinic teams. “This is not a technical overload, it is physical and mental,” said Divi member Felix Walcher. The exhaustion of the staff is observable nationwide. The sense of responsibility motivates. “But that is also exhausted at a certain point.” Especially if the appreciation and support in clinics and society is not sufficiently shown and lived. “There is grave concern that chronic workforce overload will lead to workers leaving the care system.”
The fact that the health system has not collapsed in recent months also has to do with lessons from the first wave and advances in avoiding serious disease courses. In Germany, the proportion of hospital patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units in late 2020 halved compared to the first months of the pandemic, to 14 percent in December, according to a study. However, the chances of survival are no better than a year ago in patients undergoing invasive ventilation: about half of them die.