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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh answers an Urgent Question posed by Senator Wade Mark during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate.

The Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and High Dependency Units (HDUs) at the nation’s COVID-19 treatment facilities are approaching capacity as more severely and critically ill patients are being admitted.

With an upward trend being observed in admissions, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh is warning that once the threshold is reached, doctors will be forced to decide who receives treatment. It’s quite likely a death sentence for those who don’t make the cut.

“The doctors will have to determine, if you have ten persons who need ICU or HDU care and you only have five of those beds available, which five will get it,” Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said during a virtual press conference on Saturday.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are reaching that point in Trinidad and Tobago that we have been advising (and) warning the population for months now.

“We are reaching a very dangerous juncture in our fight against COVID-19. The danger that we are facing is what Dr Richards and Dr Trotman started to talk to the country about over a month ago. You may recall, Dr Trotman over a month ago at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre spoke to the fact that our ICU/HDU capacity is limited and that if patients present needing that advanced level of care they may have to triage patients and that’s not a good thing. It means the doctors will have to determine, if you have 10 persons who need ICU or HDU care and you only have five of those beds available, which five will get it.”

Principal Medical Officer of Institutions Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards said a “consistently” increasing number of patients were being admitted to the elevated treatment units over the past week.

“The ICU capacity over the last week has been increasing and this has been noted on a daily basis from last week Saturday to present,” she said.

She said on average, five people are being admitted to the ICU and HDU per day.

In Trinidad, ICUs are 74 per cent filled while in Tobago it’s at 60 per cent.

“Despite a 25 per cent phased increase in the number of ICU beds that have been operationalised over the last month, these beds continue to be filled,” she said.

There are 69 ICU beds and some 55 HDU beds in the Parallel Health Care System across both islands.

Dr Abdool-Richards warned that while the Ministry of Health has embarked on increasing capacity, the human resources required to provide this level of critical care is infeasible to ramp up.

“Again, I’d like to remind everyone, that a bed is not (just) a bed,” she said.

The way to help prevent this, the officials said, is to get vaccinated. Statistics coming out of the COVID-19 facilities show that 94.2 per cent of patients admitted to these facilities were not fully vaccinated.

The data collected between July 22 and October 6 indicates that of the 4,437 people admitted to treatment facilities, 4,178 were not fully vaccinated.

According to Minister Deyalsingh, the situation will be exacerbated by the low vaccine uptake by the population which has “plummeted dangerously” by 55 per cent over the past week. The week prior the country averaged 2,939 first doses administered per day. This week, he said, an average of only 1,614 doses were administered per day.

The increasing presence of the deadlier and more infectious Delta variant has also led the Ministry of Health to underscore the importance of vaccinations. However, with news that around 14 of the 102 confirmed Delta cases being fully vaccinated, some have questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine. However, Dr Abdool-Richards said that the fully vaccinated of this cohort had much milder symptoms than the unvaccinated or were asymptomatic.

“We have been noting the clinical evidence that vaccinated persons who acquire the Delta variant have mild or asymptomatic symptoms and recover,” she said.

To date, there have only been three recorded COVID-19 deaths in people who have been fully vaccinated. However, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram explained that they had severe comorbidities which compromised their health prior to the infection.

See Pages 14 and 17