Western Cape on downward trend after second Covid peak

19 January 2021 - 19:12
As the Western Cape comes out of its Covid-19 peak of the second waves, health authorities are turning their attention to the wellbeing of health-care workers, to allow them to grieve and heal.
As the Western Cape comes out of its Covid-19 peak of the second waves, health authorities are turning their attention to the wellbeing of health-care workers, to allow them to grieve and heal.
Image: 123RF/Yuriy Klochan

It’s official: the Western Cape has come off the peak of the Covid-19 second wave, with most indicators such as hospital admissions, positivity rate, oxygen usage and mortality either starting to decline or to plateau.

The province's head of health, Dr Keith Cloete, said on Tuesday that statistics showed an about 19% drop in active Covid-19 cases in the Cape Town metro and an about 18% decline in rural areas. The test positivity rate had dropped to less than 30% from about 50% late in December.

Addressing journalists during Western Cape premier Alan Winde's weekly digital conference, authorities noted another measure that showed that the province had reached its peak was a drop in reproductive number of infections, which is now below one — while the surge in hospitalisations had stabilised.

The province will now be turning its attention on its overburdened health-care workers, who not only had to treat Covid-19 patients but had to grapple with rising Covid-19 infections among themselves, which had affected more than 8,000 health-care workers, or 20% of the workforce.

Cloete said the provincial health department will soon be providing on-site psychological support for its front-line workers as part of helping them grieve and heal from Covid-related trauma. A team of mental health specialists has already contacted many hospitals and their health-care workers about their suffering.

“Out of that, we have now started an intentional process of grieving and healing for all health-care workers. They have suffered significant emotional and mental trauma, and we know that they've suffered it on the basis that many of them have become infected themselves.

“They lost colleagues but, more importantly, they lost family members at home and in society. What is happening to them for us is a microcosm of what's happening to society in general. So we're taking this as a very serious process for the next four to eight weeks, allowing for the grieving, allowing for the healing, allowing for rest, allowing for recuperation.

“But while we do it, allowing for the hope of vaccines to enter that as part of the healing process for the health-care system. And that is just the ability to take a break out of the system, to come back and recuperate. And that the healing process is that we share, we talk about it, we deal with the hurt so that we build on towards being stronger for the future,” he said.

Cloete said this healing process will allow the workers “to be given the opportunity to share the pain and have the space to be able to open up and say this is the grieving we all go through”.

“It’s like a package that we're developing and we want to offer to all our health care workers. Despite a huge drop in trauma cases after the ban on alcohol sale in December, Cloete commended emergency personnel for working tirelessly, moving patients across different health-care platforms to ensure that there were no backlogs.

“We can proudly say that not a single emergency centre closed or turned patients away during this very difficult time,” he said.

One of the biggest spends of the Department of Health in the Western Cape over the past year had been oxygen, which went up fourfold,  from an average of 12 tonnes a day to 27 tonnes during the first wave and 50 tonnes during the second wave. The cost of oxygen had gone up from about R5m per month for the public sector to about R15m. The public sector alone used about 75% of oxygen produced at the Afrox plant in the Western Cape and the private sector used about 29%, which are above the 70 tonnes produced daily.

While during the peak there was a worry that the province could run out of oxygen, Cloete said additional oxygen that had been brought into the province had augmented the supply and the province now has about five days' worth of oxygen in reserves.

“So we are very confident to say we have now stabilised the oxygen situation in this province. It is a success story that we've really stabilised the use of oxygen right up to the peak,” he said.

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