ICU beds in California near capacity as hospitalizations hit record
By Terry Miller
As the nation enters a frightening new phase of the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals and care facilities are grappling with tremendous spikes in new patients. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) shows the coronavirus hospitalization rate at an all-time high.
Looking locally only reaffirms the scientific communities’ concern over the recent surge in COVID-19 patients. One quick glance at Huntington Hospital figures show a very sharp upward vertical line depicting the dramatic rise of patients admitted for COVID-19 — a sobering statistic since Nov. 1.
Huntington Hospital in Pasadena is experiencing the highest volume of admitted COVID-19 patients to date. According to Huntington Hospital Public Information Officer Dorey Huston, they have a surge plan that will activate when needed to ensure all beds at the hospital are available to care for the sickest patients.
Huntington hospital currently has surge tents outside the emergency department which remain available as they monitor COVID-19 cases, Huston says. “If needed, the tents will be used for non-critical patients as overflow from our emergency department. As of right now, we are able to care for our patients within our walls and do not need to use these tents.”
Dorey Huston told Beacon Media Thursday that the hospital had “95 admitted COVID-19 patients with 18 of them in the ICU.”
Methodist Hospital in Arcadia is seeing similar numbers according to Brian Greene, director of marketing and business development. “As of Thursday, Dec. 10, we have 62 COVID-19 inpatients with many patients being cared for on ventilators in our critical care unit. We’ve been averaging 60-plus COVID inpatients every day for the past week. It’s worth noting that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of new cases in the community, so we predict we’ll be seeing even more people hospitalized with COVID-19 going forward.”
Greene tells Beacon Media that the hospital “has been notified that vaccines for our physicians and employees are on the way and we expect to begin vaccinating our frontline hospital caregivers as early as Dec. 16.”
In looking around the country, we see similar and perhaps more alarming numbers of patients. “Within the past month, all age groups have reached their highest weekly hospitalization rate since the start of the pandemic,” the CDC noted in its weekly “COVIDView” summary of cases. “Rates for the most recent weeks are expected to increase as additional admissions occurring during those weeks are reported.”
In California, there has been a 68% increase in hospitalizations and over the last 14 days. ICUs have seen at 54% increase in coronavirus-positive admissions over the same period. Statewide, ICU capacity is down to 5.7% and in Southern California, that number is down to 1.7%, as of Tuesday.
Adding fuel to the already out-of-control COVID-19 fire is the shortage of specialized health care professionals. During a press conference Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said California is “looking overseas” for additional staffing since so many other states are “in a similar predicament” and unable to provide mutual aid.
California needs to hire 3,000 temporary contracted health care workers to meet increasing demand; there are just 300 of these currently working. There are also 137 staff from the California Medical Assistance Teams and 49 from the California National Guard. The California Health Corps has only been able to provide 21 people to help.
The state has also requested medical personnel from the federal government.
As officials address staffing shortages, they are also preparing to deal with more loss of life. According to Newsom, the state has activated its coroners mutual aid and mass fatality program. Sixty 53-foot refrigerated storage unit are on standby at hospitals in various counties, ready for bodies. The state also purchased 5,000 additional body bags which have been distributed to Los Angles, San Diego and Inyo counties.
Over the last seven days, an average of 163 Californians died due to COVID-19, almost quadruple the number from one month ago.
Greene offers sage advice: “While we’re all anxious to get back out in the community and resume our normal lives, COVID-19 is a very serious disease. At Methodist Hospital, we continue to urge people fight ‘lockdown fatigue’ and follow the CDC recommendations by continuing to wear a mask in public, social distance, sanitize and wash your hands frequently, and do everything you can to stay safe from infection.”