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After a long winter of being strained past capacity, Wednesday was the first day there were zero COVID-19 patients being treated at the Loma Linda University Medical Center since March 2020, the hospital said.

The reassuring milestone was marked with a “sigh of relief” across the hospital, which had been treating more than 200 coronavirus patients a day during the depths of the winter surge, said Dr. Adrian Cotton, the facility’s chief of medial operations.

Loma Linda prepared for the worst early on and hadn’t been stressed by the number of COVID-19 patients until mid-June, when staff began treating up to about 80 at one time. With the next surge that began in November and lasted through February, that number peaked at about 217 patients, Cotton said.

“When you’re seeing 217 patients that are incredibly sick with COVID, and then you’re down to zero, it’s a completely different outlook on life,” Cotton told KTLA.

With many medical professionals across the facility working extra and double shifts with no vacation — and many getting sick with the virus themselves — Cotton said “the term ‘off-hours’ has been non-existent since March of last year.”

“We’re still a very full hospital and a very busy hospital, but you don’t have the added pressure of your co-workers getting sick and having to use all that personal protective equipment on every single patient,” he said. “That makes a big difference, not having to fully dress up every time you go into a patient room.”

Cotton said he knew hospitalizations were trending down, but “I didn’t think we would actually get to zero, at least by now.”

“I thought we would have somewhere between five and 10 patients for long periods of time, because COVID is still out there and people are still getting it,” he said. “They may not be getting quite as sick as they were before, and especially not to the same number of patients. But we will be dealing with COVID for years to come, and we will be having COVID patients.”

While there are no patients actively being treated for coronavirus at the hospital, at least one family has yet to see their relative be discharged.

Andres Banda, a 43-year-old father of four, was declared brain-dead in February after initially being hospitalized for COVID-19. He remains on life support as his family fights in the courts to keep him alive.

Across San Bernardino County, there are still around 80 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, and about 60% of hospital beds are occupied by patients of all types, according to the latest official data.

This past week the county has been reporting an average of 65 new cases per day. A little over 1,000 people are estimated to be currently infected with the virus countywide.

Officials say the new cases are largely being driven by younger people between ages 18 and 34, and warned them that variants remain a threat — especially to the unvaccinated.

“A considerable number of these individuals, including many who are young and otherwise healthy, will suffer from the coronavirus, and some will require hospitalization,” said interim public health Director Andrew Goldfrach said in a statement. “Some will even die — which is heartbreaking when one considers how easy it is to schedule a free vaccination appointment.”

Vaccine appointments are now widely available in the Inland Empire, and walk-ups welcome at San Bernardino County-run distribution centers. Click here to find a list of locations and schedule a shot.