Officials from the state and California’s three top hospitals urged California residents to stay home during the Christmas holiday in order to curtail the spread of COVID-19 between households.
With coronavirus infections on the rise and setting new daily records for the number of cases, hospital executives said that their capacity to treat patients is stretched to the limit. Now they fear that there won’t be enough front-line medical professionals to handle all of the new COVID-19 cases that could come into hospitals and intensive care units this winter.
“Today we’re over 100% of our usual patient volume, and of that volume, 52% of our inpatients are patients diagnosed with COVID,” said Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, during an online press conference Tuesday, adding that intensive care units in 16 of the system’s 36 hospitals are above capacity. “We’re struggling to add capacity for COVID patients as we speak.”
Thomas McGinn, executive vice president, physician enterprise of Dignity Health, said California is experiencing the same thing as New York did in the early days of the pandemic, with hospitals filled to capacity and staff working around the clock to treat growing numbers of patients.
“We have a simple prescription, that we’d like to prescribe to everybody: ‘Do not share the air,’” he said, noting that sharing confined spaces with people from outside of one’s own household will give the coronavirus the opportunity to keep spreading.
“I know it’s been a long road for everybody. It’s been nine months. We’re all wearing masks. We’re tired of this. But this is the time, right now, that we need to be the most conscious of this. If you want to celebrate next year with your family and friends and your loved ones, now is the time to be disciplined. Now is the time to stick with it,” he said.
He and other hospital executives said they can convert other spaces, such as conference rooms and offices, into intensive care units, but the ability of professional staff, including doctors and nurses, to give patients the medical attention they need is at its limit.
Adams added that surge following the Thanksgiving holiday could be repeated after Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“Most of our hospitals would say, we can add capacity. We’ve got patients in hallways, patients in various locations. But the big challenge for our organizations is that our staff are tired. We don’t have the numbers. They’re taking care of more people. Staffing for physicians, nurses, all of our caregivers, is a challenge, and we expect it to continue to be a challenge over the next several weeks.”
Vanessa Walker, the Valley Area eICU medical director for Sutter Health, added that smaller rural hospitals, which would normally transfer their most critical patients to larger hospitals, also are accommodating more patients than ever.
“They’re having to step up and really take on a huge burden in these very small communities where they have little resources,” she said. “We’re able to help provide them with the specialized care they need, but it is really putting a strain on them.”
She added that the stress on these workers could end up affecting patients as well.
“Burnout is real, especially now. We cannot afford to lose any health care providers to mental health issues,” Walker said.
Figures reported by the California Department of Public Health show that the surge over the past two months is the most severe since the start of the pandemic.
As of Monday the number of people hospitalized in the state as confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases reached a new peak, 18,961. Those numbers have climbed sharply since the start of November. Previously the peak for hospitalizations was 8,820 back on July 21.
The 7-day average for new daily cases in the state is closing in on 44,000, with 53,711 new cases reported in one day on Dec. 15. As of Monday 1,925,007 cases had been reported since the start of the pandemic, with most of those cases reported within the past two months.
The 7-day average for COVID-19 deaths in the state passed 200 per-day last week, with 379 deaths reported on Dec. 16. That average was at 247 as of Monday. Most of the 22,923 deaths in California since the start of the pandemic have been in the past four months, and more than 3,700 people have died from COVID-19 in California since the start of December.
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