As the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine was delivered at a Los Angeles-area hospital, the county’s hospital and ICU capacity dropped to alarming lows.
According to Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of L.A. County Health and Human Services, there were only 370 available hospital beds in county-run hospitals. ICU availability was even worse, with just 56 adult ICU beds remaining. That is only the second time availability has dipped below 100, she said.
There were more beds available in non-county hospitals, but those numbers were not immediately available.
Orange County on Monday set new records for new coronavirus diagnoses — 3,250 — and hospitalizations, with the county’s adjusted intensive care unit capacity reaching zero. While that capacity was about 11% over the weekend, it has obviously since fallen. And the adjusted rate filters out capacity such as NICU beds for children. For comparison, Orange County’s daily positive case count was 1,056 on November 29, so the daily umber has risen over 200% in just 2 weeks.
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Southern California as a whole on Monday only had 2.7% of its ICU bed capacity remaining, according to state figures.
Los Angeles County reported 7,344 new cases on Monday. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the number of new cases is artificially low, due to a lag in reporting of weekend test results from one of the largest processing labs. She says that lag means that Tuesday will likely see an unusually large number of new cases. Between November 1 and December 7, cases in Los Angeles County increased by 625%, said Ferrer. And, she added, cases have swelled further in the past week.
There are 4,203 people hospitalized with COVID in the county, and nearly half of the county’s ICU beds are now occupied by COVID patients. Ferrer says the county will likely have 5,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 by the weekend.
COVID-19 Daily Update:
December 14, 2020
New Cases: 7,344 (532,730 to date)
New Deaths: 48 (8,345 to date)
Current Hospitalizations: 4,203 pic.twitter.com/BEosrV3xcL
— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) December 14, 2020
Ghaly noted that the county has been able to add 13% more ICU beds now in comparison to summer peak. But, she said, “That durability is not infinite. We cannot maintain this rate of increase. We will physically exhaust ourselves.”
She said that one way hospitals are accommodating the Covid spike is by canceling elective procedures. “Hospitals have started to some extent to curb non-essential proceeders,” she said.
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 Ferrer. “That’s why we need the diversion system.”
On Sunday, a day when emergency departments are traditionally not as busy, 81% of the 911-receiving hospitals in L.A. asked to have advanced-life-support ambulance traffic diverted to other medical facilities due to overcrowded ERs. The average of hospitals requesting diversion this time of year is normally 10% to 15%, Ghaly said last week.
The next step for local hospitals, said Ghaly, would be to “break ratio,” or implement team-based nursing. The state mandates nurse-to-patient ratios, but in emergency situations the number of nurses per patient can be lessened.
The state has offered two separate waiver processes, said Ghaly. L.A. County hospitals have not broken ratios yet. But, said Ghaly, a number of local hospitals have already applied for and received waivers should staff need to deploy them.
Patient-to-doctor ratios are “important, and breaking them can lead to sub-optimal outcomes,” warned Ghaly.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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