Capacity at Southern California ICUs falls to 0% amid COVID-19 surge

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Capacity at Southern California’s intensive care units has plummeted to zero percent this week — a grim sign that the recent surge of COVID-19 cases could overburden the local health care system.

Although officials said the zero percent figure doesn’t mean that absolutely no beds are available, it is a warning that the ICU capacity is becoming slimmer and slimmer amid climbing case numbers in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported.

ICU capacity in Southern California — which includes Los Angeles County as well as
Imperial, Inyo, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — sat at 0.5 percent Wednesday before plunging to zero Thursday, the paper said.

In LA County, more than 1,000 people with COVID-19 are receiving care in intensive care units, quadruple the number from Nov. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.

By early January, that number could rise to anywhere from 1,600 to 3,600 patients if transmission trends remain the same, the paper reported.

The county has only 2,500 licensed ICU beds.

“If the numbers continue to increase the way they have, I am afraid that we may run out of capacity within our hospitals,” Dr. Denise Whitfield, associate medical director with the LA County emergency medical services agency and an emergency room physician at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told the Times.

“And the level of care that every resident in Los Angeles County deserves may be threatened just by the fact that we are overwhelmed.”

Medical staff move a COVID-19 patient at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A doctor works at at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Once ICU beds are completely full, hospitals operate in surge mode, allowing them to accommodate 20 percent over capacity, according to the report.

Meanwhile, medical personnel who work elsewhere in hospitals have been receiving training to work in the ICUs — and hospitals are even seeking nurses from outside the US.

“There are simply not enough trained staff to care for the volume of patients that are projected to come and need care,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services, told the paper. “Our hospitals are under siege, and our model shows no end in sight.”

Statewide, the number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus has broken records for 19 straight days, according to the Times.

On Wednesday, 15,431 people across the state were hospitalized for the virus — exceeding the number reported on Halloween more than six-fold.

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