New COVID-19 surge could overwhelm L.A. County’s hospitals

Local news

A rapid surge in coronavirus infections has again put Los Angeles County on an alarming path that could lead to overburdened hospitals in a matter of weeks.

“Clearly, we are at a crossroads in the COVID-19 pandemic again and are at a dangerous place with respect to our overall cases and hospitalizations,” Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said in a news conference Wednesday.

As the county records a steep increase in the number of cases reported daily, there has been a significant uptick in the number of new patients admitted to hospitals with COVID-19. An increase in deaths could soon follow.

On Thursday there were 1,188 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 27% of them in intensive care units and 15% on ventilators. That’s a far cry from the average of 791 daily hospitalizations in early November.

“The message is very clear: It is highly likely that we will experience the highest rates of hospitalizations that we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic to date within the next month unless we take action immediately to substantially reduce transmission within our communities,” Ghaly said.

If the county continues on its current trajectory, it would see more 4,000 new infections and up to 2,600 COVID-19 hospitalizations daily by early December, Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.

But the county won’t wait: If hospitalizations surpass more than 2,000 per day, officials will mandate a Safer-at-Home Order for three weeks, only allowing essential and emergency workers to leave their homes. A 10 p.m. curfew will also go into effect, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Even if the county takes immediate “decisive action” and everyone complies with protocols, there will still be an increase in hospitalizations for at least the next two to three weeks since it takes that long for those infected to become ill and require hospital care, Ghaly said Wednesday.

L.A. County currently has sufficient hospital capacity to manage the projected flow of COVID-19 patients.

But without a rapid change, demand is projected to soon surpass the current capacity of the county’s hospital system, forcing hospitals to discharge some patients, cancel elective surgeries and procedures and open up additional capacity, Ghaly said.

Demand for beds in intensive care units could also outstrip the supply and “drastic action” will be necessary, she added.

As they’ve done before, hospitals will be able to expand capacity by adding more beds. But that’s complicated when there aren’t enough health care workers to staff them.

“The primary limiting factor on expanding beds supply is the availability of staff who are highly trained in an ICU environment, and that is not a staff that is easy to come by,” Ghaly said. “While hospitals can flex up their staffing and flex up their beds, it is not an infinite possibility to do so.”

“The resources are not unlimited and we must not take these resources and the staff that are behind them working on the front lines for granted,” Ghaly said.

Health officials issued new restrictions and urged residents to comply with infection-prevention protocols.

“Please don’t forget how COVID-19 is deeply personal and tragic for so many other people around you in this county. Our actions have consequences, not wearing a mask has consequences, interacting with those outside of your household has consequences,” Ghaly said.

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