California is stacking COVID patients in hospital hallways, gift shops and tents amid surge

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California’s health care system is buckling under the strain of the nation’s largest coronavirus outbreak, with health officials pleading for residents to stay home for Christmas as the number of people needing hospital beds soars to unimagined levels.

As of Monday, more than 18,961 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, with the number of available ICU beds dwindling daily, according to the state health department. 

Medical staff at the state’s largest hospital systems – Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health and Sutter Health – which together cover 15million Californians – say they have been pressed into service outside their normal duties as they grapple with the alarming surge. 

As hospitals surpass their usual patient capacity, staff have been forced to tend to COVID-19 patients stacked up in hallways and conference rooms, executives said on Tuesday.      

At Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center, 70 per cent of the 278 patients currently admitted are being treated for COVID-19, with 95 per cent of virus patients making up those in intensive care, according to CEO and Chairman Greg A. Adams.

California's health care system has been overwhelmed with surging COVID-19 cases and record-breaking hospitalization rates. Pictured: Clinicians treat a virus patient at Sharp Grossmont Hospital La Mesa, California

California’s health care system has been overwhelmed with surging COVID-19 cases and record-breaking hospitalization rates. Pictured: Clinicians treat a virus patient at Sharp Grossmont Hospital La Mesa, California 

Officials at Kaiser Permanente in Downey, California  have released a video showing patients lined up in beds in the hospital hallways and in tents outside due to the lack of space

Officials at Kaiser Permanente in Downey, California  have released a video showing patients lined up in beds in the hospital hallways and in tents outside due to the lack of space 

Some COVID-19 patients have to be hooked up to oxygen tanks in tents outside as the hospital surpasses capacity

Some COVID-19 patients have to be hooked up to oxygen tanks in tents outside as the hospital surpasses capacity 

‘As the hospital bed count continued to dwindle, we simply will not be able to keep up if the COVID surge continues to increase,’ Adams told CBSLA. 

State health officials say the alarming spike is the result of gatherings and celebrations that took place over Thanksgiving despite warnings for people to stay home and limit the spread of infection. 

‘We’re now seeing today, through the videos and the testimonies, the real impact of what’s happened post-Thanksgiving,’ Dr Mark Ghaly, the secretary of California Health and Human Services said. 

Hospital staff are now warning the state’s health care system could collapse in weeks if people ignore social distancing and gathering restrictions over the Christmas period.

On Tuesday, health care workers at Kaiser Permanente’s Downey and Fontana centers released a video showing the grim reality of the virus surge, in a plea for people to stay home.

The sobering video shows patients lined up in hallways, with dozens more hooked up to oxygen tanks in tents outside due to the lack of space. 

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Medical staff have been evaluating patients in a triage tent set up outside Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Medical staff have been evaluating patients in a triage tent set up outside Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: The 213 bed capacity hospital in San Bernardino County has 60 ICU-level patients with only 20 official ICU beds

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: The 213 bed capacity hospital in San Bernardino County has 60 ICU-level patients with only 20 official ICU beds

LOS ANGELES: People wait in line at a Covid-19 testing site at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in LA on December 18

LOS ANGELES: People wait in line at a Covid-19 testing site at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in LA on December 18 

Health care workers at Kaiser Permanente's Downey and Fontana centers released a video on Tuesday showing the grim reality of the virus surge

Health care workers at Kaiser Permanente’s Downey and Fontana centers released a video on Tuesday showing the grim reality of the virus surge

‘I’m seeing people die alone. I’m seeing nurses exhausted, missing their families and every day come to work worried about “what am I gonna see today?”‘ Dr Vanessa Walker at Sutter Health says in the video. 

Dignity Health registered nurse Hans Vega said the disregard for health restrictions from the public sometimes ‘feels like a slap in the face’ to those working around the clock to save lives. 

‘If people continue to gather for the upcoming holidays, we are going to cripple our hospital system,’ Dr Pravin Acharya warned. 

It comes as a recent report showed almost a third of all Los Angeles residents are defying lockdown orders put in place to curb the spread of infection. 

Stark data from the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic and Social Research’s Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey reveals that around 30 percent of respondents in LA County had visited a friend, neighbor or relative or had welcomed visitors to their home in the last week.

This suggests that a staggering 3million of LA County’s 10million residents are breaking the lockdown rules to meet with friends in a social capacity inside homes.  

A total of 28.2 per cent of residents had visited a friend, neighbor or relative, while 30.1 per cent had visitors at their residence in the last seven days as of December 22. 

This is despite all gatherings with people from other households being banned in the county as cases, hospitalizations and deaths soar. 

The survey also asked residents if they had stayed home except for essential activities and exercise, as part of the county lockdown rules stating that people must stay home except to travel to and from essential businesses, for essential work or for permitted activities with household members.

It found that 58.8 per cent of people have followed this rule and stayed home in the last week, meaning a staggering 41 per cent have not.   

Meanwhile, at Martin Luther King, Jr Community Hospital in Los Angeles, patients have spilled over into the gift shop and five tents outside the emergency department, CEO Dr Elaine Batchlor said.

‘We don’t have space for anybody. We’ve been holding patients for days because we can’t get them transferred, can’t get beds for them,’ said Dr Alexis Lenz, an emergency room physician at El Centro Regional Medical Center in Imperial County.

The facility has erected a 50-bed tent in its parking lot and was converting three operating rooms to virus care.

A new map, which is included in the latest community report from the White House COVID-19 Task Force, shows that California is among the states currently seeing the largest acceleration of cases.

Another map included in the White House COVID-19 Task Force report shows how a large number of counties in California and Tennessee have seen the highest acceleration of infections in the country in the last 14 days

Another map included in the White House COVID-19 Task Force report shows how a large number of counties in California and Tennessee have seen the highest acceleration of infections in the country in the last 14 days

The map indicates that almost all counties across the state have seen a rapid increase in infections in the last 14 days.

California is currently the third worst affected states for cases per capita in the country with 111 infections per 100,000 people in the last seven days, the latest CDC data shows. 

The state on Tuesday reported nearly 32,700 newly confirmed cases. Another 653 patients were admitted to hospitals – one of the biggest one-day hospitalization jumps. 

State data models have predicted the hospitalizations could top 100,000 in a month if current rates continue.

Even more worrying than lack of beds is a lack of personnel. The pool of available travel nurses is drying up as demand for them jumped 44 per cent over the last month, with California, Texas, Florida, New York and Minnesota requesting the most extra staff, according to San Diego-based health care staffing firm Aya Healthcare.

ORANGE COUNTY: A mobile field hospital is set up at UCI Medical Center, Monday

ORANGE COUNTY: A mobile field hospital is set up at UCI Medical Center, Monday

Registered Nurse Gurpinder Kaur works inside an ICU room with a COVID-19 positive patient at Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Roseville California

Registered Nurse Gurpinder Kaur works inside an ICU room with a COVID-19 positive patient at Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Roseville California 

Health care workers have warned the state's system will likely collapse if people don't stay home for the Christmas holiday

Health care workers have warned the state’s system will likely collapse if people don’t stay home for the Christmas holiday 

‘We’re now in a situation where we have surges all across the country, so nobody has many nurses to spare,’ said Dr Janet Coffman, a professor of public policy at the University of California in San Francisco.

California is reaching out to places like Australia and Taiwan to fill the need for 3,000 temporary medical workers, particularly nurses trained in critical care.

Around the country, outbreaks are being blamed on lack of social distancing and mask-wearing during Thanksgiving and officials fear an even worse surge if people gather for Christmas and New Year’s.

Fresno County in California’s agricultural Central Valley is also in desperate condition. 

Dr Thomas Utecht, chief medical officer for Community Medical Centers Fresno, related how medical staff see sobbing families, desperate patients and people dying in isolation wards with their loved ones watching remotely on a daily basis. 

Doctors and health officials there are begging people to avoid gathering outside of their immediate families.

‘If people don’t stay home … we’re going to see something that’s, it’s hard for me to even imagine,’ said Dr Patrick Macmillan, palliative specialist in Fresno County. 

‘I think it will break the health care system,’ he added. 

Similar warnings echoed around the country, from Tennessee, which is seeing the nation’s worst new COVID-19 infection surge per capita, to Mississippi and West Virginia, which surpassed their previous highs for virus deaths reported in a single day on Tuesday.

COVID-19’s impact isn’t just on the infected.

Lack of beds or nurses means that there are long lines to emergency rooms for other patients as well, such as those with heart attacks or trauma, and paramedics who must wait for an ER nurse to take charge of a patient may not be able to immediately answer another 911 call, said Dr Anneli von Reinhart, an emergency physician at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno.

In the midst of the surge, the distribution of thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers does mark light at the end of the tunnel but ‘it also feels like the tunnel is narrowing,’ said Dr Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County.

‘It’s just a race against time to try to get people through this tunnel as safely as possible,’ he said. ‘That’s exactly what it feels like to be working on the front lines right now.’

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