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California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus deaths.
The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak seen earlier in the pandemic, and which threaten to soon overwhelm the state’s already taxed hospital system.
Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, said Tuesday that the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago. The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.
The number of average daily deaths now stands at 163, while positive cases have surged to more than 32,500 each day. Of those new cases, an anticipated 12% will wind up in the hospital and 12% of those hospitalized will crowd already stretched intensive care units.
That means one day’s worth of cases can be expected to produce a staggering 3,900 hospitalizations and nearly 500 ICU patients.
“We are in the middle of the most acute peak,” Newsom said, urging residents to take precautions to slow the spread.
In Orange county, health officials said they plan to send large tents to four hospitals to help handle their patient caseloads.
After initially garnering praise for bringing the virus under control, California is grappling with its deadliest surge since the pandemic began. Hospital space is dwindling fast, with most intensive care units filled to capacity.
In the San Joaquin valley, California’s agricultural hub, ICU bed availability recently dropped to zero for the first time. Statewide, overall ICU capacity dropped to just 5.7% as of Tuesday.
Nearly all Californians have gone back under the nation’s most restrictive lockdown, which divides the state into five regions and is tied to ICU capacity. When ICU capacity drops below 15%, the lockdown is triggered.
The new restrictions ban all non-essential travel and require people to stay home and minimize non-essential contact outside their household. It also bans restaurants from both outdoor and indoor dining, prompting a backlash from many restaurant owners who say their businesses are already on the brink of collapse.
Southern California has remained one of the hardest-hit regions throughout the pandemic. In Orange county, health officials said mobile field hospitals would be rolled out to three hospitals that already need more space. The large, heavy-duty, temperature-controlled canvas tents with hard flooring add an extra 125 beds.
Dr Clayton Chau, the county’s public health officer, told the county’s board of supervisors that “emergency rooms have no capacity to triage people as quick as they can”. He pleaded with residents to avoid gathering with people from outside their households.
“I have never been so afraid of Christmas and New Year’s in my life,” Chau said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like after the holidays if people are not listening.”
At the meeting where Chau spoke, dozens of residents didn’t wear masks and demanded businesses be allowed to reopen.
California has brought in 507 extra staff and deployed them around the state, though most don’t have the skills to help in ICUs. The state is seeking a total of 3,000 contracted medical staff.
“Two weeks from now we are concerned about what our ability to provide the same level of high quality care will be,” said Dr Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services. He said hospitals have been planning for the worst, including updating what are called “crisis care guidelines” in case they must start triaging which patients get what level of treatment.
“Hospitals are in a very challenged situation right now,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. “That will only get worse, and potentially far worse in the next 30 days or so.”
In a rare bit of good news, Newsom said that nearly 394,000 more doses of Pfizer vaccines could arrive in California next week on top of the nearly 328,000 doses being distributed at 33 locations this week. On Monday, an ICU nurse became the first Californian to receive the Pfizer vaccine at a Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles medical center, with Newsom present for the historic event.
But even the joyful first inoculations at one of northern California’s biggest hospitals were tinged with sadness on Tuesday.
Eva Teniola, 47, a clinical nurse in the University of California, Davis Medical Center’s emergency department for the last 10 years, called it the “hero vaccine” as she spread her arms wide upon becoming the hospital’s first employee to receive the vaccine.
She said she’s never seen anything as bad as the coronavirus, which has forced people to die without their families by their sides.
“These past few weeks, it’s really different,” she said, adding that she can see the toll on her colleagues’ faces. “It’s like burnout. We get tired, you know … the pressure, the stress.”
For Shashi Kant, a senior custodian in the hospital’s ICU, getting the vaccine was even more personal. His adult daughter, a radiology technician at a Modesto hospital, died from the virus several months ago.
“This is just like a lifeline,” he said about getting the vaccine. “I’m protecting myself and the patient.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hard hit southern California to receive 5,000 body bags and 60 morgue trucks | Coronavirus