Covid kills someone every 15 minutes or so in LA County, forcing hospitals to make ‘tough decisions’


An ambulance team waits with a patient outside the emergency room at Coast Plaza Hospital during an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, December 26 2020.

David Swanson | Reuters

The Covid-19 epidemic is so severe in Los Angeles County that ambulances have to wait hours to drop patients off in the emergency room.

Hospital beds are crammed into gift shops, cafeterias and conference rooms as hospitals struggle to find space for patients.

The Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency on Monday told EMS employees to administer supplemental oxygen only if a patient’s saturation levels drop below 90% to maintain depleted oxygen reserves. Paramedics have also been told not to transport adult heart attack patients to hospital unless they can reestablish “spontaneous circulation” on the spot – to focus care on patients who are more likely to suffer. to survive.

Los Angeles faces an unprecedented rise in the number of coronavirus patients which is pushing area hospitals to the brink. Public health officials warn that the already dire situation is expected to worsen in January.

“Many hospitals have reached a crisis point and are facing very difficult decisions about patient care,” Dr Christina Ghaly, county health services director, said at a press briefing Monday. She urged residents to avoid emergencies unless they need serious medical attention.

Hospitals have been pushed to their limits since Decemer, when the region’s intensive care unit capacity quickly fell to zero, state health officials said. More than 8,000 people are now hospitalized with the virus in the county, and 20% of those people are in intensive care units, according to data compiled by the county’s public health department. With the virus widely spread, public health officials warn conditions are likely to deteriorate before they improve.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and healthcare workers treat patients outside the emergency room at Huntington Park Community Hospital during a surge in positive cases of coronavirus disease (COVID -19) in Huntington Park, Calif. On December 29, 2020.

Bing Guan | Reuters

In California, around 370 people die each day from Covid-19, based on a weekly average – an increase of almost 46% from a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by the University Johns Hopkins.

In Los Angeles County, the coronavirus kills someone every 15 minutes on average, county public health director Barbara Ferrer said in Monday’s briefing. The county exceeded 11,000 total Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, including 1,000 in less than a week, the public health department said in a statement.

Everyone in the region should assume that they will be exposed to the disease every time they leave their homes, Ferrer said. One in five people tested for Covid-19 in Los Angeles County has the virus.

“We are likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we have faced the entire pandemic, and it is hard to imagine,” Ferrer said. “The increase in cases is likely to continue for weeks to come due to New Years holidays and celebrations and returning travelers.”

Tense staff

Los Angeles County is still dealing with the Covid-19 flooding caused by the Thanksgiving holiday and has yet to see the cases likely to follow the late December holiday, Ghaly said. Hospitals are now trying to do “all they can to prepare”.

Some coronavirus patients are forced to wait more than a day for a bed in an intensive care unit to open, said Dr Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of Los Angeles-University County Medical Center of Southern California, to CNBC in an email. .

Health worker checks patients inside an oxygen tent outside the emergency room at Huntington Park Community Hospital during a surge in positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Huntington Park, Calif., December 29, 2020.

Bing Guan | Reuters

The hospital has had to redeploy some of its health workers to handle the influx of intensive care patients, which means there is no time to conduct elective surgeries or other life-saving procedures, such as colonoscopies, Spellberg said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom told a press briefing Monday that the state has sent medical assistance teams to the Los Angeles area to help reduce stress on hospitals. However, if there is a further increase in Covid-19 cases after the December vacation, additional staff will not be enough, Spellberg said.

“Our staff is still very limited, especially in the ICUs. We can’t just create more nurses and intensive care doctors,” Spellberg said in an email, asking people to continue to follow the advice of public health such as wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds.

‘We are crushed’

The outbreak comes as California, along with other states in the United States, has started administering their first Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

The state has received just over 2 million doses of the vaccine, but only 24% of them have been administered, according to the State Department of Public Health’s database last updated Wednesday . Newsom said on Monday that the process was moving too slowly and that the state “wanted to see things go much faster.”

Ravina Kullar, a Los Angeles-based infectious disease expert and member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told CNBC in a phone interview that she expects vaccinations to ramp up in the weeks to come. come, although the injections will not work immediately. It takes a few weeks for immunity to develop, and too little is given to develop herd immunity that would protect the general population.

“I think we’ll see some sort of stability, a cap and a decrease in cases, but it’s just going to take time,” Kullar said. “I think it will take until spring, summer to really see an impact there.”

Kullar, who works in long-term care facilities and nursing homes in Los Angeles, said every facility she works with is battling a Covid-19 outbreak. These residents, alongside health workers, will be the first to receive vaccines in California as they roll out, Newsom said, adding that there are about 3 million people in the first phase of vaccination. the state.

“We are crushed,” Kullar said. “We are understaffed. I am exhausted, my colleagues are exhausted. It’s a very difficult situation here.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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