A group outbreak of COVID-19 at the National University Hospital is straining the Icelandic healthcare system. In a briefing today, Director of Health Alma Möller recommended all optional surgeries be postponed to minimise the risk of further hospitalisation. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that authorities would be monitoring to see whether the hospital outbreak leads to community infections, and if so, whether COVID-19 restrictions need to be tightened further.
Iceland’s National University Hospital is currently treating 51 patients with COVID-related illnesses, the highest number of COVID patients it has ever had. There are 15 patients in the ICU, three of which have COVID-19. The hospital is currently operating according to a state of emergency, in part due to a group outbreak of COVID-19 among elderly patients at its Landakot location. The outbreak has infected 79 individuals: 27 (largely elderly) patients and 52 staff members. The outbreak heavily impacts operations at Landakot.
Landakot Outbreak Could Lead to Rise in Community Infection
Though previous COVID-19 outbreaks in hospital had not led to a rise in community infection, the Chief Epidemiologist stated that he would not be surprised in the Landakot outbreak spread to the community. Case numbers over the next few days would show whether this was the case, and whether he would recommend further restrictions would depend on those numbers.
Patients Spread COVID to Other Institutions
At the briefing, the hospital’s director Páll Matthíasson commended hospital staff, which he stated were shouldering an “inhuman” workload. He stated that the hospital currently had three priorities: ensuring it can treat COVID patients, making sure hospital services remain accessible to those who need them, and containing the Landakot outbreak.
Before the outbreak was discovered, some patients were moved to Reykjalundur and Eyrarbakki, resulting in infections in those institutions. Þórólfur stated that the patients were not tested before being moved as the outbreak had not been discovered at that point, but added that authorities would be more careful in the future when transporting patients between healthcare institutions. It was necessary to transport the patients to ease strain on the hospital.
Authorities Consider Mandatory Border Testing
The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his concern that individuals may not be following rules on quarantine upon arriving to the country. While travellers arriving from abroad can currently choose between 14-day quarantine or double testing with five-day quarantine, Þórolfur stated that authorities were considering making the latter option mandatory.
As usual, Þórólfur responded to news of an impending vaccine with cautious optimism, reminding the public that we still have a long way to go in this pandemic and personal preventative measures such as handwashing remain crucial in bringing down case numbers. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson underlined the importance of staying home if you have symptoms and asked employers to make this policy clear to their staff.