Overflowing hospital morgues, increased 911 wait times, beds only opening when patients die. Hospitals in California, where almost all of the state’s 40 million residents are living under stay-at-home orders, are seeing historic stress points.
The surge of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is pushing hospitals in Los Angeles County to the “brink of catastrophe,” a top health official there said.
To the north in Santa Clara, one doctor said: “What we are seeing now, is not normal.”
Every day since November 7, Covid-19 hospitalizations in California have increased.
As of Thursday, 21,449 Covid-19 patients were in hospital beds throughout the state, with more than 4,500 of those in intensive care units.
“We are in the midst of a disaster,” Los Angeles County Director of Emergency Medical Services Agency Cathy Chidester said, talking about the challenges faced by hospitals due to the lack of resources and staffing.
The amount of oxygen required for each coronavirus patient is putting extreme pressure on the hospital, according to Chidester.
They also are running out of ambulances while response times to 911 calls are getting longer and longer, she said.
Los Angeles County shattered its record of the highest number of coronavirus deaths reported on a single day since the start of the pandemic with 290 deaths Thursday, according to data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The high number of deaths includes a backlog of cases from the holidays as well as an internet service interruption.
“As we see 2020 come to a close, we’re experiencing extreme conditions in L.A. County,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said at a news conference. “With no decline in the number of new cases, our hospitals continue to be overwhelmed as more and more people are rushed to hospitals.”
The medical examiner’s office, which is accepting overflow from hospitals that don’t have any more room in their morgues, is also expected to receive help from the California National Guard on Monday.
About a dozen refrigerated storage units, which were secured in March as part of the county’s “mass fatality plan,” are in place at the Downtown Los Angeles campus, according to Captain Emily Tauscher at the Los Angeles County Medical-Examiner Coroner’s Office.
Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly described the medical facility situation as on the “brink of catastrophe.”
Some health department primary care clinics have had to close or reduce their hours because the county’s hospitals are “so incredibly taxed,” Ghaly said.
More than 700 nurses have been reassigned to fulfill duties within the inpatient units, the emergency department, as well as the quarantine and isolation beds provided by the health department. All types of health care staff are being used and the county is requesting additional help.
Teams from the US military with 75 doctors, nurses and staff are being deployed to the state.
While no hospitals in the L.A. County have formally declared they are operating under “crisis care,” health officials have said that some Southern California hospitals have put in place practices that would be a part of crisis care, including redirecting ambulances when facilities are overwhelmed.
Ferrer warned that the data trends will continue into January and hundreds of people will die each week.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said people need to stay home to help blunt surges from the holidays.
“We are still going to have our toughest and darkest days,” Garcetti said. “It’s so critical we change our behavior. Everybody’s doing something but everybody can do more.”
Problems throughout the state
Doctors in Santa Clara, 45 miles south from San Francisco, are treating some critically ill patients in the emergency room, as there’s no room in intensive care units.
“Often, the only time we can move someone is when a Covid patient dies,” emergency room Dr. Marco Randazzo said in a news conference. “Despite these conditions, we come to work to do our part,” Randazzo said, pleading with residents to sacrifice this New Year’s Eve “for a lifetime of other experiences yet to come.”
California added 27,237 coronavirus cases Thursday and 428 deaths. More than 2.2 million Californians have been infected to date, and well over 25,000 of those have died.
“What we are seeing now, is not normal,” Dr. Ahmad Kamal of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center said. “We are clearly not out of the woods, we are in the thick of the woods.”