Sabah Coping Despite Record High Covid-19 Hospital Admissions

Elective cases have been deferred in specialist hospitals in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Keningau, and Lahad Datu, while normal wards in most Sabah hospitals are converted to Covid wards.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — Sabah authorities and health care workers say that hospital beds in the state haven’t run out yet, despite daily admissions exceeding last year’s Covid-19 peak.

Sabah recorded 264 hospital admissions for Covid-19 on February 13 amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, surging past the 257 admissions on August 21, 2021, at the height of the Delta wave in the east Malaysian state.

Yesterday, Sabah reported 4,035 new Covid-19 cases, including seven patients with moderate Covid-19 in Category Three, 14 patients in Category Four and three in Category Five with severe Covid-19. The vast majority at 4,011 cases were asymptomatic or mild in Categories One and Two.

Currently, 2,885 Covid-19 patients in Sabah are receiving treatment: 1,295 in hospitals; 1,458 in public low-risk quarantine and treatment centres (PKRC); 130 in temporary detention centres or prisons; and two in private facilities, according to Sabah state local government and housing minister Masidi Manjun’s Covid-19 report yesterday.

There are currently 39 Covid-19 patients in Sabah who require critical care, comprising 35 in intensive care units (ICU) or repurposed critical care wards and four in open wards (high-dependency wards or acute cubicles). Another 21 Covid-19 patients are on ventilator support.

Sabah state health director Dr Rose Nani Mudin said the bed occupancy rate of non-critical beds for Covid-19 patients in hospitals in the state reached 83 per cent yesterday, whereas 29 per cent of ICU beds are occupied by critical Covid-19 cases.

“Hospitals are still able to cope to treat Covid-19 patients by gradually opening up wards to treat them as we need to balance the need to treat non-Covid patients,” Dr Rose Nani told CodeBlue.

She said most hospitals in the state have converted normal wards into Covid-19 wards. The majority of specialist hospitals in Sabah – such as Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the state capital of Kota Kinabalu; Duchess of Kent Hospital, Sandakan; Sabah Women and Children’s Hospital in Likas, Kota Kinabalu; Tawau Hospital; Keningau Hospital; and Lahad Datu Hospital – have also postponed elective non-Covid cases while mobilising manpower to Covid wards.

Dr Rose Nani noted that Sabah is seeing an 80 per cent to 90 per cent decline in the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to ICU this year compared to 2021, as there are fewer Category Four and Five cases this time during the Omicron wave. Comparing the average length of hospital stays between Delta and Omicron cases, however, is complicated as it requires analysing each patient, she said.

She also pointed out that Sabah’s official Covid-19 vaccination rates will change once 2020 census data is taken into account. Masidi previously told CodeBlue that Sabah’s immigrant population was initially over-estimated.

Sabah has the lowest vaccine coverage in Malaysia with about 63 per cent of its total population fully vaccinated, according to official figures.

A physician from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu told CodeBlue that since the Omicron wave started, normal wards of various disciplines have been converted into Covid wards again.

‘’So, in a way, yes, we ran out and had to ‘create’ new beds. But if you’re asking if we have absolutely no more beds for Covid patients, then I guess it’s a no. We were down to three isolation wards at the lowest, now we’re at eight,’’ the doctor said on condition of anonymity.

‘’A lot of services that stopped during the previous waves have resumed, and while we’re cutting down clinic loads (due to mobilising staff and health care worker infections), we’re not diminishing services yet.

“The ICU is not full. No indications that oxygen is running out at the moment. If you’re asking about Covid-related deaths and coping capacity, we haven’t reached last year’s magnitude,” added the physician from Sabah’s main tertiary hospital.

The doctor also noted that many patients admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital have “incidental” Covid-19, meaning they came in for another health issue but happened to be infected with the coronavirus.

The state capital of Kota Kinabalu reported the highest number of new Covid-19 cases in Sabah yesterday at 910 infections, followed by 496 cases in Sandakan and 388 in Tuaran. Sabah’s 4,035 new coronavirus infections formed 19 per cent of 21,315 fresh cases reported nationwide. Eighty-seven cases in Malaysia recorded yesterday, or 0.41 per cent, were in Categories Three to Five.

A doctor at Duchess of Kent Hospital, Sandakan, similarly said that his facility in the east coast currently has sufficient beds for Covid-19 patients due to repurposing, as well as adequate oxygen support.

Elective surgeries have been deferred, such as knee replacement operations, while closed fracture surgery will be delayed slightly. Urgent cancer surgeries are still carried out if needed.

“So far, nothing unacceptable,” he told CodeBlue.

A doctor working in Pitas Hospital, a district hospital in northern Sabah, said beds are rapidly filling up, but the small facility has not yet reached a critical state of patients being stranded.

“‘Overwhelmed’ is subjective at this moment,” the medical officer told CodeBlue.

‘’While the number of beds and facilities can cater to the needs of the people, hospital staff have been committed to the cause since the beginning of this pandemic and many are still unable to take proper time off to recuperate and rewind from this ordeal.

“In short, though we may not be physically overwhelmed, doesn’t mean we’re not mentally.’’

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