Nursing Home Pedicab Program a Wheely Great Success

Residents of the Dalbær nursing home in the North Iceland village of Dalvík are on the move these days, thanks to the ‘Cycling at Any Age’ program that provides pedicab services and outings for residents. RÚV reports that Dalbær is among the nursing homes currently participating in the program, which is sponsored by the organization Hjólfærni, or ‘Cyclecraft,’ a local offshoot of the movement of the same name started by John Franklin in the UK.

Arnar Símonarson is one of the Bike Buddies who regularly provides pedicab services for elderly residents. “I come up here to Dalbær now and then, when I have the time and opportunity, when I’m at loose ends, and I ride this hot rod here, which has been dubbed the Cool Cab.”

Arnar says that the number of rides provided each time varies, as do the destinations. “People want to go to the bank and the store, we go to Olís [a petrol station] and get ice cream, sometimes we go to the coffee house and the residents have a beer or something else. And then sometimes, we go up to the cemetery.”

Arnar believes that a pedicab such as the one he pilots in Dalvík should be at every nursing home in the country. “It’s wonderful to go out with the residents and see them smiling and getting a little color in their cheeks.” He says that he’s seen a real change amongst the residents since the pedicab became a regular feature of their day-to-day lives. “We can see the happiness and vitality and people return a bit refreshed,” says Arnar.

The Dalbær residents agree. Kristján Loftur Jónsson is one of Arnar’s regular passengers and says that he enjoys getting out for some fresh air and that his favorite places to go are the coffee house or the corner store where he gets an ice cream when the weather’s nice.

Arnar concluded by saying that there’s no reason to fear getting old if you can remain engaged the world. “Growing old doesn’t mean having to disappear from life. Life is out there,” he remarked. “We just have to go out and grab it.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: 80+ Offered Fourth Dose

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has decided to offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to those 80 years of age and older, as well as all residents of nursing homes, Vísir reports. The decision is based on data from abroad that show COVID infection among older demographics can lead to serious illness even after three doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Þórólfur expects infection rates to remain low throughout the summer but points out that there is still uncertainty about how long immunity from vaccines and previous COVID-19 illness lasts.

“There is data emerging both from across the pond and from Europe that infections among these individuals that have received three doses can be very serious, much more serious and worse than among younger people that have received three doses,” Þórólfur stated. “There are recommendations from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency to offer these people a fourth dose and it’s on that basis that we are doing so.”

Chronically ill encouraged to receive fourth dose

Previously, the Chief Epidemiologist has only recommended fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine to those who are chronically ill. Þórólfur says, however, that participation among the group has been lower than hoped when it comes to the fourth shot. The general population is still not being offered a fourth dose in Iceland. Currently, 81% of eligible residents in Iceland are fully vaccinated, and around 56% of the total population have received a third dose.

Unknown how long immunity lasts

Iceland is currently reporting 100-200 new COVID-19 cases per day, but authorities believe the true number to be higher. Seventeen are currently in hospital with COVID-19 infection. Þórólfur says he expects infection rates to remain low throughout the summer, but the coming autumn and winter are less certain, both because COVID-19 has shown itself to be seasonal and because we still do not know how long immunity provided by vaccines or by COVID-19 infection lasts.

“There are viruses that ramp up in the fall and winter time and I think it’s fairly likely we will have a good period this summer. Then it’s a question of what will happen in the fall. We just have to wait and see. I’m not predicting anything bad, necessarily, but we have to just monitor the situation closely.”

Nursing Home Residents Advised Against Christmas Outings

Grund Elderly Care Centre.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response and healthcare authorities have issued recommendations to the country’s nursing homes advising against residents leaving the homes to visit family for the holidays. If a resident leaves the nursing home, they will have to quarantine for five days in their relative’s home. After a five-day quarantine, resident will be tested for COVID-19 before being admitted to the nursing home again.

Nursing homes are subject to strict COVID-19 infection prevention regulations to protect at-risk residents. Nursing home visits will continue to be limited over Christmas. Residents are able to receive one or two visitors per day who have to stay in the resident’s room as they aren’t allowed to visit the nursing homes’ communal spaces. Visitors have to wear masks and keep a social distance. Mealtime visits aren’t allowed and won’t be for the holiday season either.

Iceland to Prioritise Healthcare Workers, Elderly in COVID-19 Vaccination

Healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be prioritised access to a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available in Iceland. The Minister of Health has confirmed regulations defining ten priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. Children born in 2006 or later will not be vaccinated unless they belong to risk groups.

The priority groups were defined in consideration of the World Health Organisation’s recommendations as well as perspectives that have emerged in neighbouring countries. Emphasis is placed on healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The groups are prioritised in the following order:

  1. Healthcare workers and other employees that work in the emergency wards of the National University Hospital in Reykjavík and Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland.
  2. Healthcare workers and other employees of the National Hospital’s COVID-19 ward and inpatient ward as well as comparable wards at Akureyri Hospital; healthcare workers and other staff at health clinics as well as those who administer COVID-19 tests; and staff at nursing homes and retirement homes.
  3. Residents of nursing homes, retirement homes, and hospital geriatric wards.
  4. Licenced EMTs and paramedics that work in ambulance services; Coast Guard staff that work in the field; firefighters that work in the field; prison wardens; and police officers that work in the field.
  5. Other healthcare staff that have direct contact with patients “and require COVID-19 vaccination according to further decisions by the Chief Epidemiologist.”
  6. Individuals 60 years of age or older. Those who belong to this group and are also inpatients at healthcare institutions will be given priority.
  7. Individuals with underlying chronic illnesses that belong to particular high-risk groups for COVID-19 as further determined by the Chief Epidemiologist.
  8. Staff of preschools, primary schools, and junior colleges. Community and welfare service staff that have direct contact with users, including those that provide in-home services.
  9. Individuals that are vulnerable due to social or economic factors and are at particular risk.
  10. All others who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 according to further decisions by the Chief Epidemiologist.

The first five groups on this list number around 20,000 individuals, according to RÚV.

Several Vaccines and Access for Everyone

Vaccination will be free of charge. The Chief Epidemiologist is responsible for further prioritisation within each group and can also make exceptions to the regulations outlined above, but must provide reasoning to the Health Minister.

The Chief Epidemiologist is also responsible for determining which groups receive which vaccine. It is likely that locals in Iceland will be vaccinated using several different vaccines. The Icelandic government has made a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase the COVID-19 vaccine the company is developing, and will have access to other COVID-19 vaccines currently in development through the European Union. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that Icelandic authorities also have the option to negotiate with vaccine developer Pfizer. In a briefing in Reykjavík last Thursday, Þórólfur stated Iceland should have access to enough vaccines for everyone. He added that there was as of yet no definite information on when a vaccine would be available in Iceland.

COVID-19 in Iceland: National Hospital Capacity Key to Third Wave Response

National University Hospital Páll Matthíasson

The National University Hospital can handle the projected strain of the current wave of infections, though some reorganisation will be necessary, according to its Director Páll Matthíasson. Páll discussed the hospital’s strengths and weaknesses in tackling the current uptick in COVID-19 hospitalisations at a briefing in Reykjavík this afternoon. Iceland’s current wave of infection will rise slower, fall slower, and last longer than its first wave last spring, says Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Spread of Infection Likely Slowing

Þórólfur stated that the number of daily infections in Iceland and the number of those diagnosed outside of quarantine both appear to be dropping, though slower than expected. Exponential growth of the local pandemic had been successfully avoided, and thus he believes it is unnecessary to impose harsher restrictions, though the situation is being re-evaluated on a regular basis. On the other hand, he stated it was likely that restrictions would be maintained over the coming months as “this virus is not going anywhere.”

Hospital Needs to Free Up Resources

The Chief Epidemiologist’s Office and the National University Hospital have been in communication regarding the challenges the hospital faces in tackling the current wave of COVID-19 infection. Páll stated that while the hospital has many strengths, including well-trained staff and new knowledge and experience in treating COVID patients, it needs to decrease pressure in other wards of the hospital in order to free up resources to deal with the pandemic. The hospital also needs to ensure it is flexible in its organisation and its reserve force of healthcare staff are ready to respond to emergencies. Space and staffing are the biggest challenges currently facing the institution.

Nursing Homes in Good Shape

Most nursing homes and disabled care homes in Iceland are in good shape, according to Þórólfur, and measures implemented to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have been largely successful. He added that there have been few severe COVID-19 cases among the elderly and at-risk in this wave of infection.

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson ended the briefing by reminding the public of their personal responsibility in tackling the pandemic. “It is normal to be tired and bored of COVID and want our normal lives back. But we need to stick together to protect those most vulnerable.”

Iceland Review live-tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings.