Lawmakers and hospital officials are sounding the alarm, Riverside County's intensive-care capacity is nearing 100 percent.
News Channel 3's Peter Daut spoke with the chief medical officer at Eisenhower Health, Dr. Alan Williamson.
Peter: Today, Congressman Ruiz posted that Riverside County's total ICU usage is at 94 percent, 25 percent COVID-19 patients, which is dangerously close to being at full capacity. The state safety criteria is to maintain a 20 percent open bed reserve, 80 percent ICU usage, to handle rapid flare ups.
is that what you're seeing at Eisenhower?
Dr. Williamson: That is pretty close to what we're seeing, we don't have quite that hard of an impact on our ICU as of today, but we are definiltely seeing an increase in the number of cases across the board. Including those that need Intensive Care Units beds, and we are certainly aware of the other hospitals throughout the Southern California area or at least extending down to Imperial Valley are definitely stressed to near their limits and their capacity to really manage the number of paatients that they're seeing. So there is a significant surge.
Peter: How concerning is this for you right now?
Dr. Williamson: It certainly is concerning, we continue to work on a daily basis on our surge planning, to be sure that we can continue to care for the patients. We have to look at the ability to continue to do elective surgery for example, whether we can continue to offer those services again, if we get into a true bed crunch where we no longer have enough bed capacity to manage the elective surgeries as well as the covid patients, and the other patients that we're seeing, we have to consider restricting that once again. And just like the rest of the county and the state, we're not trying to take steps backwards if we can possibly avoid that. But we definitely need the public to continue to help us, to continue all the things we harp on every interview, wearing face masks, social distancing, and washing your hands.
Peter: And are you still seeing younger patients?
Dr. Williamson: We still see sort of across the board, but because we are seeing far more patients out in the East Valley, and if you look at the demographics of the East Valley. There is a younger age population, a younger average age in the East Valley, so yes we still see a number of 30, 40, early 50-year-olds that are coming in infected
Peter: Government officials said earlier today that younger people tend to be asymptomatic, is that something you're seeing as well?
Dr. Williamson: It's a lilttle hard for me to really talk to much about asymptomatic patients because we don't really see that at the hospital, but I do think it's a fair assessment that the younger patients as a whole tend to be less severly affected. Unless they have other conditions, if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, if they have kidney disesase, then we are seeing those patients quite ill and coming to the hospital.
But remember that even those younger patients, particularly in our East Valley community, they're often living with parents, grandparents and so on, who are at risk. While the young people may feel they are somewhat invincible, and can afford to get the disesase and not worry about it, they have to think about the rest of the community that they are around, the family members that they can easily spread that virus to.
Peter: Do you believe that enough testing is being done?
Dr. Williamson: I think we're doing pretty well with testing, it is a challenge for us every day, we continue to have to monitor that and control to a certain degree, I'd love to be able to test patients that we're not able to test right now. And ideally, if we wanted to practice good public health, we'd be testing everyone right now in the community, and isolate those that are infected and may well be asymptomatic, because they can spread the virus to others. But right now we still have some limits on that capacity to do that. And we talked before that even if we worked to identify those patients that are potentially vectors of the disease, do they have a living situation where they can practice good social distancing settings, good quarantine methods, or are they in a multi-generational home where that is difficult to do.
Peter: The county has been on the state's watchlist for well over a week now and shown very little signs of improvement. are you concerned we could be heading to another shutdown.
Dr. Williamson: I'm concerned as any member of the public is that may happen, I think the responsibility is to continue these efforts, despite being tired of this, to push forward with all of the basics that we talked about, and we can flatten the curve again, we've done it before, we can do it again, but it requires an effort on all of our parts to do that. I think we can potentially avoid that. But even just within the hospital, we're having to look at potentially having to take some backward steps because of the surge that we are seeing.
Peter: And you mentioned the hospitalization rate, going up as well and the plans you have in place. once you hit that limit, what then?
Dr. Williamson: Well we have a number of different options for us, but it would include potentially like going back to limiting the availability of elective surgeries again, and having to look at alternative spaces both within the hospital and even outside, do we have to look at tents and so on, we're making every effort possible to avoid that, especially in this time of year, an outside tent is not appealing when it's going to be 100 degrees Outside. So we're looking at all those things to try and manage volume, we also know that throughout the Southwest in particular, there is a large surge across the board and that's putting a lot of strain on being able to provide nurses for the beds that we do have. So one of the biggest challenges we have now is staffing, to be sure we can provide nurses for the beds that we have, because there's such a demand particularly in the southwest for nurses.
Peter: Let me ask you Dr. Williamson, we continue to get a lot of criticism from some viewers that think we are hyping up this virus, that this is just the flu, and of course the rates are going to go up because there's more testing. what do you say to people that think it's all just hyperbole?
Dr. Williamson: Well I'd love to have them come work with me for the day, and I think they would agree this is not hyperbole, this is serious.
This is a virus that is indiscriminate, you have young people who have been permamnently injured, severely injured, requiring lung transplants for example, And elderly people who are also falling victim and succumbing to the disesase. So it is definitely more serious than the flu and we need to take this seriously, it is spreading through the community and we need to try and take control of that, or else we will all face being quarantined again and really shutting down our economy once again and I don't think anyone wants to see that happening if we can avoid it.