California virus outbreak has personal consequences for nurses


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – For Caroline Brandenburger, the coronavirus epidemic that has overwhelmed California hospitals has very personal consequences.

“Even today, we had two deaths in this unit. And that’s pretty much the norm, ”said Brandenburger, who works on the COVID-19 unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, south of Los Angeles. “I usually see one to two every shift. Super sad. “

“They fight every day and find it hard to breathe every day even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die, “Brandenburger said.” They simply die. “

California has avoided an increase in cases for months, but now the virus is raging there, as it has in many other states. Only Arizona leads California in the number of cases per capita and, with 40 million people, the huge state has a huge workload: more than 2.5 million confirmed infections.

A wave after Halloween and Thanksgiving produced record hospitalizations, and now the most seriously ill of these patients are dying in unprecedented numbers. California health officials on Thursday reported 583 new deaths and a record two-day total of 1,042.

There have been more than 28,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the state since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations are approaching 22,000 and state models predict that number could reach 30,000 by February 1. Already, many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep pace and have warned they may need to ration care as intensive care beds dwindle.

Lawmakers and public health officials have repeatedly hailed medical workers as heroes as they struggle to treat those infected. Many already exhausted nurses are now caring for more patients than is generally allowed by state law after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict ratio law nurses / patients.

The nurses at Saint-Joseph hospital illustrate the results of the work.

“This week has been probably the most difficult week for me physically and emotionally,” said Donna Rottschafer, nurse in the COVID-19 unit. “I’ve been here for 21 years and have seen more people pass away in the last week – the last two weeks actually – then almost as a combined career in my nursing career.”

“We see patients who are on maximum oxygen, who are just in pain,” she says.

In the north, in Los Angeles County, figures released Thursday show a new daily caseload of nearly 20,000 cases, a 66.5% increase from the day before, the mayor of Los Angeles said, Eric Garcetti.

The more than 8,000 people hospitalized were the highest number since the pandemic began early last year, Garcetti said.

The county has a quarter of the state’s population but accounts for about 40% of deaths from COVID-19.

Garcetti said federal authorities should step in to send the region vaccines, cash, doctors and personal protective equipment, noting that medical staff and PPE flocked to New York City when it peaked. at the start of the pandemic.

“This is our peak and we need you,” Garcetti said. “We need national leadership, we need vaccines and we need the resources to pay for them. Give them to us and we know how to get the job done.

Los Angeles is one of 14 counties in the two hardest-hit areas – Southern California and the San Joaquin Farm Valley – which for about two weeks have been running out of intensive care unit beds for people with disabilities. COVID-19 patients.

The availability of intensive care at Bay Area hospitals fell to its lowest level, falling from 7.4% to just 3.5% on Wednesday, according to state data. The Northern California region, which includes 11 primarily smaller and rural counties, had the best capacity at around 25%.

Earlier this week, state health officials caught hospitals off guard and left them scrambling with new orders limiting non-essential surgeries and forcing hospitals with little intensive care space to accepting patients from those who are exhausted, an order that can require transferring patients hundreds of miles.

In an earlier push, Imperial County patients along the border with Mexico were sent to hospitals as far as the San Francisco Bay Area. But the current outbreak is so widespread that only 11 predominantly rural counties north of Sacramento and San Francisco exceed the state’s threshold of at least 15% capacity for coronavirus patients in intensive care beds. Those below this level are subject to more stringent restrictions for business operations.

The biggest fear is that hospitals will be pressured to ration care in a few weeks when people who have ignored social distancing rules to reunite with friends and relatives for Christmas and New Years Eve start showing up for medical care.

Authorities have urged people to avoid mixing households or traveling in the hopes of slowing the spread of the infection and avoiding what has been called an outbreak in addition to an outbreak.

In an effort to keep people closer to home, the Newsom administration has issued a more strident travel advisory that says people from out of state are “strongly discouraged” from entering California and that Californians should avoid non-essential travel more than 120 miles from home.

“These next two or three weeks will define everything for us,” said Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles. “Our own behavior will dictate everything we do.”


Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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