As ICUs across the state were overrun with Covid-19 cases this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom said of the virus, “This is not something to be trifled with. Think about what the January number may look like if we continue [this way].” January’s number may have come a little sooner than the governor expected.
When Newsom made that statement on Wednesday, he reported the number of new daily coronavirus cases at 32,326. That was just slightly down from the all-time high of 35,468, which was set on Friday. Friday’s number was up from just over 22,000 one week before. But the rise in new cases on Wednesday was unprecedented.
California’s Covid-19 dashboard reported 53,711 new cases over the previous 24-hour period. Usually a big jump in one day can be attributed to a backlog of cases from the weekend. The state’s biggest county, Los Angeles, did in fact report 7,000 backlogged cases. But that county’s remaining 14,000-plus cases still represent its highest one-day total of the pandemic.
The 53,711 number is the highest single daily count of virus infections ever recorded by a U.S. state — Texas had a data anomaly on December 11 that resulted in 58,000 cases, but that number was not a real reflection of the state’s new infections over a 24-hour period. Other states’ highest-ever daily new case counts are not even half the new California tally — and that’s excluding California’s 7,000 backlogged cases.
Wednesday’s new infections tally equals over 3% of the entire virus case load the Golden State has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
California also shattered its daily record for coronavirus-related deaths at 293. The previous high of 225 was recorded along with the previous high in new cases last Friday.
That may not be the last big increase in deaths the state sees. Wednesday’s record case number will likely translate to about 6,500 hospitalizations in two weeks as those reported infected seek help. That’s 6,500 hospitalizations from a single day’s new infections. As of last month, the state only had about 72,000 hospital beds total. Its regions are struggling to keep ICUs from being overwhelmed. Some of them are not succeeding.
Late Monday, Southern California fell to an all-time low with just 1.7% of ICU bed capacity left. By Tuesday night availability had fallen to just 0.5%.
Newsom announced on Wednesday that the state had activated mutual aid among the state’s coroners. That means if one area’s coroners are overwhelmed, they can call on those from nearby regions for help.
“We have orders for 63 refrigerated units,” he said. “We just had to order 5,000 additional body bags and distribute them down to San Diego, L.A. County.” Newsom said his intention was not to scare Californians, but the gravity of the announcement was hard to ignore.
In San Diego, two ambulance crews waited five and seven hours before emergency department staff had enough available room to accept the patients they were transporting. Similar stories were coming out of L.A. and Orange County. The latter was rolling out mobile field hospitals to handle the surge in coronavirus patients.
Those field hospitals will be housed in large trailers and include canvas tents with hard flooring and temperature-controlled units that feature running water, toilets, showers and generators as well as air purifiers.
In Los Angeles, hospitals were accommodating a massive Covid spike by canceling elective procedures, which can include such essential things as heart valve replacements. “Hospitals have started to some extent to curb non-essential procedures,” said L.A. Director of Health and Human Services Dr. Christina Ghaly.
Another method of regulating bed capacity is “diversion,” in which an ambulance is diverted to a hospital — possibly farther away — that has more beds. “We are aware that there are certain hospitals in the county where offload time can exceed four hours,” revealed L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “That’s why we need the diversion system.”
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