The day after Los Angeles County’s number of new cases topped 10,000 for the first time, state and local officials warned about the status of the region’s health care system.
By Sunday, said California Governor Gavin Newsom, Southern California had only about 10% of its ICU capacity left. That had dropped from about 15% on Thursday and 12.5% on Saturday. Los Angeles County had about 16% of its adult ICU beds left on Monday.
Hospitalizations were up 72% in the past two weeks, Newsom said. Of those, 14% of patients had Covid-related illnesses. Overall, 63% of the state’s hospital beds were occupied. There had been 69% increase in ICU admissions in CA over the same time frame. “As a state,” said Newsom, “what’s available in our critical care system is just 14%.”
Locally, Los Angels Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer announced that a record number of 2,988 people were now hospitalized with the virus. Orange County, for its part, reported its own record-setting number of 877 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday. That included 218 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, nearing a mid-July peak.
“It’s very possible that in two weeks we could see the daily number of people hospitalized at 4,000 a day,” said L.A. County’s Ferrer of virus-infected parents. The health care system in the county has about 2,400 hospital beds, according to an official. Overall hospital bed capacity is running at about 75% full, said Ferrer, before revealing that some hospitals in the network were already out of ICU beds. However, reminded Ferrer, “The biggest issue we face is not physical beds, but staffing.”
ICU beds take specially-trained nurses and doctors who are in short supply. The governor announced on Monday that the state had hired a staffing agency to build out its ICU personnel. There will be 815 new staffers as a result of the effort, he said. Breaking that down by percentage of population, Los Angeles County’s ICU capacity would rise by a little over 100 beds as a result.
On the negative side, 1,719 of the county’s heath workers reported they had Covid-19 last week, according to Ferrer. That’s more than twice the number from the week before and the highest ever reported. The increasing number of COVID-19 patients is creating more exposure to health care workers, she said, who in turn become infected themselves.
The county’s test positivity rate on Monday was 11.6%, up from 5% just one month ago. And the predicted post-holiday surge in cases was just beginning to show, reported Ferrer.
“I would say this is the start of the Thanksgiving bump,” she said. “I would say, in this case, it’s more like a Thanksgiving week bump because of the number of people traveling.” With daily numbers already above 10,000 who knows how high that bump could go.
“That has a tremendous impact throughout out entire healthcare system to take care of the sick,” she observed.
Even though the current record case numbers ensure a hospitalizations spike in two weeks, Ferrer emphasized that there’s still a very narrow path to preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed — if residents commit to infection-control measures and public health restrictions.
“We don’t want to get there and we don’t have to get there,” she said. “While we know we’re going to see significant increases for the next two to three weeks, it can turn itself around at the moment we all start getting back into the game. And we don’t have to actually just say, ‘This is inevitable, we are going to see an overwhelmed health care system.’
“We don’t have an overwhelmed health care system today. We have time, but very little, to get ourselves to a place where that will not be the case in L.A. County, but it would take every single one of us working hard together to get that to happen,” she said.
An ongoing USC-led survey of residents has found that people are not adhering to restrictions on gatherings. In fact, the survey found the percent of people who say they’ve visited other people’s homes or had visitors in their own home has is climbing. That number currently sits near an all-time high of 35%.
“It does appear that the warnings of a surge in cases in late October and early November had limited impact on people’s willingness to visit another person’s home, with just a slight dip in the week before Thanksgiving,” said Ferrer.
The county on Monday reported another 8,086 new COVID-19 infections, lifting the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 457,880. The county also announced another 27 deaths, raising the death toll to 7,936.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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