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2 die after COVID-19 outbreak at nursing home near Tokyo as hospital beds fill up

The Saitama Prefectural Government headquarters. (Mainichi/Koichi Uchida)

SAITAMA -- Two people in their 80s who were infected with the novel coronavirus in an outbreak at a nursing facility in the city of Toda in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, died without being able to be taken into medical institutions, it has been learned.

    The municipal nursing facility has been unable to find medical facilities to take in even coronavirus patients with serious symptoms since a cluster of infections broke out, and other infected patients have been isolated and are wearing oxygen masks.

    One worker at the facility told the Mainichi Shimbun over the phone "A doctor at the facility has provided explanations to the families of those who are infected, and exchanged documents stating that life-prolonging measures will not be taken if they develop serious symptoms. It's a tough situation."

    On Dec. 27 an infected resident in his 80s who had a liver condition died. Two days later, another resident in his 80s who similarly had a preexisting medical condition also passed away.

    The facility has a total of 89 residents. Since Dec. 17, the infections of 10 residents and eight staff including at least one nurse have been confirmed there.

    According to the facility, a prefectural health center informed it that it was "extremely difficult" to find places to hospitalize patients, and that patients not showing symptoms of COVID-19 were to remain at the welfare facility while being isolated. The family of the man who died on Dec. 27 had agreed not to rush him to the hospital or adopt live-preserving measures if his condition worsened, and a worker stayed with him in his final moments. The family of the man who died on Dec. 29, meanwhile, had asked that he be quickly taken to the hospital if his condition worsened, but when a worker checked on him in the morning, he had already passed away.

    As of Dec. 28, there were 751 patients hospitalized in Saitama Prefecture, with a bed occupancy rate of 61.1%. At a news conference the same day, Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono commented, "We have to think of this as the equivalent of stage 3," referring to the four-stage alert system where 4 is the worst level and 3 represents a sudden increase in infections.

    The occupancy rate of beds for severely ill patients in the prefecture stood at 50.5%. On Dec. 27 a workshop was held for doctors and nurses at medical institutions with beds for lightly and moderately ill patients that had not previously looked after severely ill patients, regarding the handling of ventilators.

    Masamitsu Sanui, a doctor at Jichi Medical University Saitama Medical Center, commented, "It's becoming difficult to get into hospital for severely ill patients. There's a limit to medical resources, so the only thing that can be done is to reduce the number of newly infected people."

    (Japanese original by Shoko Washizu, Saitama Bureau)

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