LA County hospitals are surging with a rise in COVID-19 cases, do we have enough space?

When the 1,000-bed hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, sailed into the Port of Long Beach in March, officials were anticipating massive surges of COVID-19 patients. But the massive ship ended up sailing out of the port complex in mid-May having treated 80 patients on board.

While Los Angeles County hospitals didn’t see the number of patients they thought they would get early on in the pandemic, hospitals are now seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients—and they’re surging to meet that demand.

Right now, hospitalization utilization is at 60%, ventilators utilization is at 34% and ICU use is at 45% in the Long Beach area, which includes Lakewood and Los Alamitos hospitals, according to Gabriela Hurtado, a logistics specialist with the city’s health department.

“Long Beach residents are remaining fairly stable in terms of hospitalizations,” Hurtado said. “Obviously in our surrounding areas, hospital use and ICU bed use and ventilator use is going up … In our area, the hospitals have started surging up within their own hospitals, dedicating different wings that they normally wouldn’t use for COVID to be utilized for COVID.”

Long Beach still has its alternate care site, which is the convention center that currently has about 100 cots. Officials can also easily scale it up to hold 200 beds, Hurtado said. The city’s health department also looks at its hospital situation from an “area perspective,” she said, taking into consideration hospital and alternate care site availability in LA County and Orange County too.

City officials are also hoping Community Hospital will soon be reopened to add to the city’s available hospital beds, but its operators are still waiting on licensing from the state.

“We keep an eye on (the hospitalization number) very closely because the hospital bed use is an indicator of when we would have to start moving people around and we haven’t had to do that yet,” Hurtado said.

As of Friday, hospitalizations in Long Beach reached 87 people, the highest number the city has reported on the day of. Health officials usually update the numbers later on as they get more information. For example, it appears the highest point hospitalizations have reached so far was on July 1 when hospitalizations were initially reported at 78 but the updated number now shows 106 people were hospitalized on that date.

Hurtado said the discrepancy comes from what time of day the health department gets reports from each hospital and the various reporting systems used by each hospital.

The county counts 1,995 people currently hospitalized, with 26% of these people in the ICU and 17% on ventilators. Four weeks ago, county hospitals saw between 1,350 and 1,450 people hospitalized.

City health officials also reported 74 new cases on Friday, a significantly lower count than the numbers of new cases reported each day earlier in the week. They were unable to clarify why the count may have been lower. In total, officials reported 867 new cases this week.

So far in the month of July, officials have reported 1,126 new cases. In the entire month of June, they reported a total of 2,173 and in the entire month of May they reported 1,280 in the city of Long Beach.

Countywide, the daily positivity rate is higher, at 10%, meaning 10% of people who are tested for COVID-19 are found to be positive, even though more people who do not have symptoms are being tested.

County health officials are urging people to wear masks, physically distance and avoid prolonged exposure to people outside their homes as the number of cases and hospitalizations continues to rise in LA County.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.