Southern California ICU capacity hits zero as COVID-19 patients flood hospitals

Overall capacity for intensive care unit beds in the 11-county Southern California region dropped to zero on Thursday as COVID-19 patients continued to fill hospitals statewide.

Los Angeles County as of Thursday still had roughly 716 available hospital beds and 92 ICU beds, while officials cautioned that the numbers can change rapidly as patients are admitted and discharged.

The alarming drop in ICU capacity comes as health officials have warned of a mass strain on the healthcare system stemming largely from people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.

More recently, health officials said they’ve seen cases stemming from gatherings during Halloween and Thanksgiving and have pleaded with residents to avoid getting together with people from other households over Christmas and New Year’s.

Based on the science of transmission of COVID-19, the “devastation we are experiencing now” is due to infected people being in close or direct contact with another person or group long enough to infect them, said Dr. Muntu Davis, the Los Angeles County health officer.

California on Thursday reported a record 379 coronavirus deaths and more than 52,000 new confirmed cases. The staggering new figures mean the state has seen more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days and nearly 106,000 confirmed cases in just two days.

Los Angeles County reported a record 138 additional COVID deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total to 8,568.

On Thursday, the county reported another 102 coronavirus-related deaths, along with 14,418 newly confirmed cases. County officials say 4,864 people are hospitalized due to the virus—about 200 more than yesterday.

Meanwhile, Long Beach on Thursday reported its own record numbers, with 993 new COVID cases, for a total of 24,075. The city also reported four additional deaths, for a total of 310 fatalities.

As of Wednesday, 312 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in one of the area’s five hospitals. It was unclear how many of those were in ICU beds. 

Many of the state’s hospitals are now running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-COVID patients.

“It’s pretty much all COVID,” said Arlene Brion, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital in Orange County, where she’s assigned six or seven patients rather than the usual one to three. “There’s probably two areas that are clean but we’re all thinking eventually it’s all going to be COVID.”

Christina Zicklin, a spokesperson for St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, said capacity is limited in the ICU at this time, but “we are managing hourly and we have not had to implement surge plans but we have them ready to go in case we do.”

State officials are continuing to talk with the Defense Department about using the staff from the USNS Mercy hospital ship, even if they don’t use the ship itself, officials said, but the state has made no formal request. The Mercy was brought to Los Angeles for a time early in the pandemic to take pressure off hospitals by handling non-COVID cases.

Vaccines were starting to be administered this week, but officials noted that it will not quell the current surge of cases.

Long Beach area hospitals were expected to get their first doses for healthcare workers on Friday morning.

The Southern California region—which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties—is under a state-imposed regional stay-at-home order, which will remain in effect until at least Dec. 28.

– The Associated Press, City News Service and Staff writer Brandon Richardson contributed to the report 

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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