As hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, L.A. city attorney warns against holiday DUIs

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The Los Angeles city attorney on Monday strongly urged residents not to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs as a surge in COVID-19 cases continues to overwhelm Southern California’s hospital capacity during the holiday season.

“If you’re in a car accident, either as a driver or passenger, it could be very hard to get help,” City Attorney Mike Feuer warned.

Even with two stay-at-home orders that have closed bars and banned gatherings in the city this year, Feuer said that between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, his office prosecuted more than 5,000 DUI cases: 4,601 involving alcohol, 384 tied to drugs and 100 linked to both.

More than 300 people were previously convicted of driving drunk and did not have the required ignition interlock device, a breathalyzer-like technology installed in vehicles of previous offenders, Feuer said.

Last New Year’s Eve and Day, California Highway Patrol officers arrested 491 DUI suspects and at least three people were killed.

“That is the equivalent of removing an impaired driver from the road nearly every four minutes,” CHP said at the time.

As of Sunday, L.A. County only had 354 ICU beds available out of 21,556 licensed beds, according to the state. Four hospitals run by the county are preparing an emergency plan in the event that a shortage of beds or health care workers prevents them from treating every patient.

“Some compromise of standard of care is unavoidable; it is not that an entity, system or locale chooses to limit resources, it is that the resources are clearly not available to provide care in a regular manner,” said guidelines obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

L.A. County’s health services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, also painted a grim picture of local emergency rooms swamped with patients.

Speaking to reporters Monday, she noted that over the weekend a “large family” was sent to a public trauma center after they were hit by a drunk driver.

“The hospital had to manage this — always a very trying and difficult situation under any circumstances — but made all the more difficult given the high number of COVID patients that the hospital was already taking care of,” Ghaly said.

She added, “Patients will be attended to, but we need to relieve that strain on the emergency department to the greatest extent possible.”

Ghaly emphasized that staffing remains a concern for both public and private hospitals.

County-run hospitals have redeployed more than 250 outpatient staffers to inpatient wards. They’ve also canceled procedures.

“We’ve moved patients into space that isn’t traditionally licensed for inpatient care, turning recovery rooms into inpatient units,” Ghaly said.

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