Under assault by the rising surge in Covid-19 cases, available space continued to dwindle Friday at Los Angeles County hospitals. As a result, health-care professionals were imploring the public to take the virus seriously to prevent medical centers from being overrun and unable to care for patients.
“We’re getting crushed. I’m not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. “For most of the days of the last week, we’ve had zero ICU beds open in the morning, and we have had to scramble — ‘can we move this patient here,’ ‘can we move that patient there…’ We’re already expanding care into areas of the hospital we don’t normally provide that type of care in.
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“And it isn’t just COVID patients,” he said. “It’s car accidents and heart attacks and victims of violence. They need a place to go to receive critical care. We can only react. We cannot stop the spread. We need the public to listen to these mitigation strategies to slow the spread or we will completely run out of beds.”
But Covid-19 is by far the biggest culprit.
“By this weekend,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday, “and probably by tomorrow, we’ll probably have…over half of our ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.”
Spellberg also voiced the frustration felt by health care workers caused by those who deny the severity of the virus and downplay its impact on hospitals.
“The amount of moral courage it takes to run towards the danger makes it very frustrating for our heroes every day to come to our hospitals and care for patients when we see video and hear people not taking the public health strategies seriously,” he said.
His comments came amid a surge of cases that has exploded across the county since November, exacerbated by the Thanksgiving holiday and accompanying gatherings that occurred in spite of warnings against them.
Dr. Christina Ghaly said that as of Friday morning, there were 699 total available hospital beds in Los Angeles County — with a population of 10 million people — and just 69 ICU beds, although hospitals not run by the county have a few more. Ghaly’s count is down from Thursday’s figures of 716 overall beds and 92 ICU beds.
Ghaly noted that the hospital figures represent a “snapshot in time” from a daily morning poll of the county’s 70 “911- receiving” hospitals with emergency rooms, and the numbers can fluctuate dramatically throughout the day.
In recent days, county hospitals have been operating near their overall licensed capacity of about 2,500 ICU beds.
Last week, county hospitals operated an overall average about 10,360 non-ICU beds per day, based on physical space and available staffing. Overall, county hospitals are licensed to operate about 17,000 non-ICU beds, but that number is restricted by the availability of staff to treat patients. There just aren’t enough.
The county on Thursday reported a total of 4,864 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, up about 200 from the previous day and the highest level of the pandemic. Roughly 20% of those people were in ICU beds, or about 973.
Ghaly echoed Spellberg’s warning that the crush of patients at hospitals threatens care for everyone, not just Covid-19 patients.
“Everyone has seen first-hand how devastating this pandemic has been and continues to be and knows that we are battling this unprecedented surge that overwhelms our hospitals and really risks undermining the ability…of hospitals to care for everyone who needs their services,” she said. “And that’s at risk right now.”
Spellberg noted that the arrival of a Covid-19 vaccine is offering hope for health care workers and the public about an eventual end to the pandemic, but that end remains a long way off.
“While we now see the light at the end of the tunnel, we haven’t reached the light yet,” Spellberg said. “The pandemic is going to continue for many, many months after we begin vaccinating people. This is not the time to start ignoring public health advice and recommendations. Our hospitals are critically overcrowded in L.A. County. And if we don’t stop the spread, our hospitals will be overwhelmed.”
On Thursday, the state announced that the 11-county Southern California region had formally reached zero capacity in intensive-care units. The designation does not mean there are no beds available, since the state adjusts the capacity figure based on the ratio of Covid patients occupying ICU space. It might also, however, mean that there really are zero adult ICU beds available, the remainder being NICU beds.
Ghaly said earlier that Los Angeles County hospitals were averaging about 600 coronavirus admissions per day, up from around 500 last week. Based on current trends, hospitals could be admitting anywhere from 750 to 1,350 new Covid admissions per day by the end of December, she said.
On Thursday, the county Department of Public Health reported 102 additional coronavirus fatalities, although four of those were actually announced Wednesday by health officials in Long Beach. Long Beach reported another four deaths Thursday afternoon, while Pasadena announced three more. The new fatalities gave the county an overall total of 8,671 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said average daily deaths from Covid-19 in the county have spiked 267% since November 9, reaching 44 per day as of last week, and likely even higher this week given the recent rising death figures. Ferrer said that equates to two people in the county dying from Covid-19 every hour.
Another 14,418 infections were confirmed in the county Thursday. Long Beach health officials reported another 993 cases Thursday afternoon, while Pasadena health officials announced a daily record of 201 new infections. The new cases lifted the countywide cumulative total to 581,519.
The county also estimates that one of every 80 residents not hospitalized or in quarantine/isolation is infected with the virus, likely without knowing it or showing any symptoms, yet still capable of infecting others.
City News Service contributed to this report.