‘The only time there’s a free bed is when a Covid patient dies’: California hospitals struggle to cope under strain of virus surge as ICU capacity in state hits zero
- Emergency room physicians in California have revealed how hospitals are so overstretched amid the coronavirus pandemic
- Ambulances forced to wait several hours at a time to unload patients, causing delays throughout the county’s emergency response system.
- The United States set a new record with 125,379 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on Thursday
- The country hasn’t dipped below 100,000 hospitalizations since the beginning of December
- ICU available capacity is at 0 percent in California as a whole
- California has lost 26,236 people to the COVID-19 virus so far
- The United States surpassed 20 million COVID-19 cases earlier this week
California, the most populous state with 40 million residents, has become a leading US flashpoint of the pandemic despite some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on social gatherings and business activities.
The soaring COVID-19 case load has pushed hospitals in and around Los Angeles in particular to their limits, filling emergency rooms, intensive care units, ambulance bays and morgues beyond capacity, and creating staff shortages.
In Santa Clara, near San Jose, hospitals have run out of space in intensive care units and are now treating patients in the emergency room.
Dr. Marco Randazzo, an emergency room physician, told CNN: ‘Often, the only time we can move someone is when a Covid patient dies.’
More than 21,000 patients are in beds across California being treated for coronavirus, with over 4,500 patients in intensive care units.
On Thursday, the country set a new record with 125,379 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, the most for a single day since the pandemic began.
Pictured: A doctor checks on patients inside a facility in Apple Valley, California
The situation at hospitals across the United States is growing more dire by the day
ICU available capacity is at zero percent across the state of California due to COVID-19
The state has released data stating there is 0.0 percent ICU capacity available in California, although that number varies greatly by region, with the Bay Area sporting a 6.3 percent capacity remaining, while Southern California is at 0.0 percent.
Briefing reporters on Thursday, Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, called the situation a ‘hidden disaster,’ not plainly visible to the public.
Heightened demands of caring for those struggling to breathe has also left many hospitals in the region short on oxygen, both in supplies and the ability of older facilities to maintain adequate pressure flow through ventilators, Chidester said.
She also described ambulances forced to wait several hours at a time to unload patients, causing delays throughout the county’s emergency response system.
To ease ER overcrowding, the county is denying ambulance transport to hospitals of emergency patients who are already under hospice care with do-not-resuscitate directives, according to Adam Blackstone, a spokesman for the Hospital Association of Southern California.
Medical experts attribute the worsening pandemic in recent weeks to the arrival of colder weather and the failure of many Americans to abide by public health warnings and requirements to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel over the year-end holiday season.
The crisis faced by healthcare systems has become especially acute in Los Angeles County where one patient is dying every 10 minutes from the respiratory virus, according to county health officials.
‘We are clearly not out of the woods — we are in the thick of the woods,’ said Dr. Ahmad Kamal of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts that over 80,000 could lose their lives to the coronavirus in the next three weeks alone.
Some hospitals are treating patients in emergency rooms or makeshift ICU wings
There are also oxygen tents that are being held outside of California emergency rooms
California is one of the states seeing the biggest surge of cases as the pandemic rages on
The US marked a sobering start to the new year on Friday as COVID hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the 31st day in a row, with more than 2,000 new deaths,
Some states, including New York, New Jersey, and Nevada, have seen declines in hospitalizations over the past couple of days.
But other states, such as Texas and Iowa, continue to see sharp rises in coronavirus hospitalizations. The former counted 12,481 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals on New Year’s Day.
Pictured: A person is loaded into an ambulance after being administered oxygen
California has lost over 26,000 people to the COVID-19 pandemic so far
Pictured: An administrative worker hands a COVID-19 test to someone in Los Angeles
Hospitals are not the only facilities running short on room in California.
The Associated Press reports funeral homes are also running out of room and struggling to deal with the overflow of the deceased, reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic when New York City deployed freezer trucks near hospitals for those who died.
‘I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,” said Magda Maldonado, who owns the Continent Funeral Homes in Los Angeles.
In California, there were almost 38,000 new cases on New Year’s Day, pushing the state past 2.35 million total cases. The state also added 271 more to the death total, which now stands at 26,236 people.
The United States surpassed 20 million total cases this week as the death toll continues to climb simultaneous to the slow rollout of several COVID-19 vaccines.
The United States surpassed 20 million coronavirus cases in total earlier this week
Adding to anxieties over the current surge is the emergence of a mutant strain of COVID-19 that has now been confirmed in three states: Colorado, California and Florida. The strain was first detected in the United Kingdom and is thought to be 70 percent more transmissible than the original.
Florida became the third state to confirm a case of the strain on Thursday evening after it was detected in a man his 20s who lives in Martin County and has no history of travel.
California, which reported its first case of the strain on Wednesday, confirmed three more people have been infected with it in the San Diego area on Thursday night.
Earlier this week, the first case was confirmed in Colorado and officials say they are also investigating a second suspected case in the state.
The fact that the confirmed cases in Colorado and Florida both involved individuals with no recent travel history means that the variant must already be circulating on US soil.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has been sounding the alarm that it’s only a matter of time before other states detect the strain.
‘We predicted it would be, when you have so much of it in the UK, which then spread to other countries in Europe and Canada, it was inevitable that it would be here,’ Fauci told Today on Thursday.
‘You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that is already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread’.
But he added: ‘The good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent, namely, making people more sick and leading to more death.’
There are fears the number of infections – followed by hospitalizations and deaths – will only continue to rise in the coming weeks as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealed that it screened 1,163,696 people at airport checkpoints on Wednesday, December 30.
It marked the fifth consecutive day that the number of passengers screened exceeded one million and the ninth day this month that the threshold was passed.
Offering a bit of hope, Operation Warp Speed chief Dr Moncef Slaoui on Wednesday announced that a one-shot coronavirus vaccine could be in use by February if Johnson & Johnson’s jab is approved.
Slaoui said Phase 3 trial recruitment for the vaccine has been completed and Johnson & Johnson is currently working with the Operation Warp Speed team to accelerate the availability of the vaccine doses.
‘I think it can be quite a game-changer,’ Slaoui told reporters. ‘We’re hopeful that this vaccine, which is a one-shot vaccine will have equivalent efficacy to those of Moderna and Pfizer.’
Single-dose shots would mean faster rollout, and that people would likely be protected from coronavirus in a matter of weeks after the injection – rather than the about one-month period it takes for Moderna or Pfizer’s shots to reach their protective peak.
In the weeks since Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs were approved several states have struggled to implement effective plans to get them out to patients.
Pandemic is set to kill another 115,000 Americans in January but universal mask wearing and faster vaccine roll-out could save thousands of lives, model reveals
The coronavirus pandemic is on track to kill another 115,000 Americans by the end of January, according to one statistical model, which claims that universal wearing of masks and a rapid vaccine rollout could save about 13,000 lives in the next four weeks.
As of Saturday, the total number of U.S. deaths in the pandemic was approaching 348,000, and since March more than 20 million Americans have been infected by the virus.
The sluggish and at times chaotic initial rollout of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna has drawn sharp criticism from a range of political leaders, including President-elect Joe Biden and Republican Senator Mitt Romney.
Following current trends, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that the death toll will hit 456,238 by January 31.
Following current trends, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that the death toll will hit 456,238 by January 31
Rapid vaccine rollout would have the biggest impact starting in February, as the vaccines take weeks to take effect. The IHME’s projections of daily deaths are seen above
Healthcare workers wheel a patient into a hospital in New York on New Year’s Day. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States since March topped 20 million on Friday
The statistical model predicts that if everyone in the country wore a mask or face covering in public, January’s death toll would drop by about 13,000.
A rapid vaccine rollout would only spare about 1,000 lives in January, according to the model. Since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both take several weeks to provide effective protection, their true impact would only be seen over a longer timeline.
As of Saturday, 3.49 million vaccine doses have been administered nationwide, according to a Bloomberg analysis. That accounts for just 28 percent of the vaccine doses that have been distributed top the states, and means that 1.1 percent of the total population has received a dose.
It was far short of the Trump administration’s goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans with a first of two required doses by the end of 2020.
Senator Romney, a Utah Republican and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, issued an emotional statement on Friday urging the U.S. government to immediately enlist veterinarians, combat medics and others in a dramatic proposal to boost vaccination efforts.
Fire Chief Colin Stowell (left) receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the San Diego Fire-Rescue Training Facility on Thursday
‘That comprehensive vaccination plans have not been developed at the federal level and sent to the states as models is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable,’ Romney said in a statement that was perhaps aimed as much at the incoming Biden administration as the outgoing Trump one.
‘It was unrealistic to assume that the health care workers already overburdened with Covid care could take on a massive vaccination program,’ Romney said.
Almost 350,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19
He called on the government to ‘enlist every medical professional, retired or active, who is not currently engaged in the delivery of care’ to be drafted into a crash program of government-run vaccination sites across the country.
‘This could include veterinarians, combat medics and corpsmen, medical students, EMS professionals, first responders, and many others who could be easily trained to administer vaccines,’ he proposed.
Romney also proposed a scheme to ‘Schedule vaccinations according to a person’s priority category and birthdate: e.g., people in group A with a January first birthday would be assigned a specific day to receive their vaccination.’
Referring to his experience overseeing the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Romney also included what could be seen as a pitch to the Biden administration to offer his own assistance, saying: ‘I have experience organizing a major logistical event,’ though adding humbly that it was ‘nothing on the scale of what is called for today.’
Hundreds wait in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Fort Myers, Florida, on Thursday. Floridians over age 65 can get the vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis
Biden also took a swipe at the Trump administration’s oversight in a tweet on Friday, writing: ‘Let me be clear: The Biden-Harris Administration will spare no effort to make sure people are getting vaccinated.’
Biden has vowed to invoke the Defense Production Act and ensure that 100 million vaccines are administered in his first 100 days in office, though he has offered few concrete details on how this would be achieved.
Hospital doctors and nurses treat Covid-19 patients in a makeshift ICU wing on the West Oeste at Harbor UCLA Medical Center on Tuesday in Torrence, California
Funeral services are held for grandfather Gilberto Arreguin Camacho, who died due to Covid-19, at Continental Funeral Home on Wednesday in East Los Angeles, California
The leading U.S. infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Wednesday he was confident of overcoming early glitches in the vaccine campaign, saying America could still achieve enough collective immunity through vaccinations to regain ‘some semblance of normality’ by autumn 2021.