Ventura County doctors say they could need 100 times more ventilators — a possible ‘worst-case scenario’

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A coronavirus screening and testing site is seen in Ventura County on March 19, 2020. (KTLA)

A coronavirus screening and testing site is seen in Ventura County on March 19, 2020. (KTLA)

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If people in Ventura County don’t practice social distancing, the coronavirus could infect so many that the region’s hospitals will need 100 times more ventilators, according to county health officials.

That dire prediction, a potential “worst-case scenario,” is outlined in a letter released by the county’s public health department Saturday. The letter is written by Ventura County physicians Dr. Daniel Cox, MD, palliative care; Dr. Nessa Meshkaty, MD, infectious disease; and Dr. Melissa Barger, MD, infectious disease.

“In the near future we are going to experience a coronavirus surge here in Ventura County,” the letter states.

Currently, there are 98 coronavirus cases out of 1,574 people who have been tested in the county, according to health officials. Three people have died from the virus.

But those numbers could grow rapidly as they have elsewhere in the U.S. and in neighboring Los Angeles County, where COVID-19 has left 32 people dead.

Another 601 cases surfaced in L.A. County in just the past 48 hours, a startling spike that shows just how quickly the virus is spreading in the region.

“We are preparing for the surge every second of every day,” reads the letter from Ventura County doctors. “But you have a responsibility to our community as well.”

Calling on residents to stay home and practice social distancing, the doctors warned that a sharp increase in infections could be devastating.

“If the rates of coronavirus spike and our county residents all need acute care simultaneously — there will not be enough beds, and many will be denied the care that we would all expect to receive, leading to loss of life.”

In the letter, they break down how many life-saving ventilators may be needed if the virus spreads unchecked — a scenario they say will happen if residents ignore social distancing guidelines.

With a county population of 850,000, in a “worst-case scenario,” one in five people with COVID-19 may end up seriously ill and needing hospitalization, according to the doctors. About one quarter of those hospitalized patients will need a ventilator and life support, they estimate.

Using an epidemiological model recommended by the California Department of Public Health, the doctors predicted when the virus may peak locally.

Without “strict social distancing,” Ventura County’s hospitals will need 18,000 ventilators “to take care of the sickest patients at the peak of the surge on day 58 of the outbreak,” according to the doctors.

But there are just about 180 ventilators across eight hospitals in Ventura County, the doctors say. That means the county has just 1% of the ventilators it would need in such a situation.

However, if local residents “reduce social contact” by 60%-70% and testing and treatment improves, Ventura County could face a much more manageable peak. Using the same model, the doctors predict that peak would require just 475 ventilators on day 170 of the outbreak.

“That extra time is critical for our hospitals to build ventilator capacity and allow for the developments of novel treatments,” the letter states. “Thousands of lives would be saved.”

Anticipating a surge in cases, California is currently working with hundreds of companies to gather more ventilators and equipment, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday.

State officials are looking to acquire 10,000 ventilators and so far have obtained about 4,200, repairing some received from the national stockpile.

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