At one Brazil hospital, the ICU is full of COVID-19 patients

NITEROI, Brazil (AP) — The intensive care unit in the public Oceanico hospital in the Brazilian city of Niteroi is full of COVID-19 patients, and medical workers are constantly on the move.

A dozen doctors, covered from head to toe in protective clothing and equipment, divide up the tasks. In front of a bed, a doctor checks the vital signs of an elderly man and covers him with a blanket. Another uploads patient information to a computer.

“You will get out of this,” a doctor said to a sick, elderly man as workers prepared to connect him to a ventilator. “When you wake up, everything will be over and then you will go home.”

A team from The Associated Press on Friday visited the intensive care ward at the Niteroi hospital, and saw that all its beds except for one were full. The empty bed was being prepared to receive a new patient.

Most ICU patients were connected to ventilators. The hospital, which has 140 ICU beds, was inaugurated in April by city officials and treats only COVID-19 patients.

Across Brazil, many hospitals are filling up again with COVID-19 patients. In Rio de Janeiro city on Friday, the public health network had an occupancy rate of 93% in intensive care beds, according to authorities. In other cities like Curitiba, in the south, the occupancy was 93%.

The governor of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, João Doria, said Monday that vaccination against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will begin Jan. 25 in his state. Doria said that his government will also make 4 million CoronaVac vaccines available to other states. The potential CoronaVac vaccine is being developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac and would be mostly produced by Sao Paulo’s state-run Butantan Institute. It has yet to be approved by Brazil’s health regulator,

The mayor of Niteroi, Rodrigo Neves, signed a memorandum to buy 1.1 million vaccines from Sao Paulo, becoming one of the first Brazilian cities to do. Niteroi is near Rio de Janeiro and has a population of more than 500,000.

“The vaccine is the possibility of having our normal life back," Neves said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Doria is a political opponent of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has cast doubt on the potential effectiveness of CoronaVac.

The federal government has a deal to get up to 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate if it works. But Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said this week that the Chinese vaccine and the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine could be included in the national vaccination plan.

Brazil has confirmed more than 180,000 deaths from COVID-19, the second most of any country in the world after the United States.