COVID Has Southern California ICU Capacity at Zero

December 18, 2020 – Intensive care unit capacity dropped to zero Thursday in all 11 southern California counties, according to the California Department of Public Health, as coronavirus cases continued to climb and experts in public health had warned that the worst was yet to come.

As of December 16, the total number of confirmed cases in the state had risen 3.1% from the previous day, to 1.72 million. Nearly 22,000 people have died in the state since the start of the pandemic.

What exactly does 0% capacity mean in intensive care units?

“This means that all of the intensive care beds we have right now – without taking extra extreme measures – are full,” says David Simon, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association.

When a hospital reaches zero intensive care capacity, the hospital goes from “normal” to “peak” operation, he says. There are things that can be done to alleviate the situation, according to Simon and others:

  • “The very first thing we’re going to try to do is convert other beds [to ICU beds]Simon said. But in the pandemic, the challenge is to have enough staff to care for the patients in these beds.
  • Sufficiently recovered patients may be transferred to non-ICU hospital beds or transferred to non-hospital facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities or home care.
  • In a non-pandemic period, patients can be transferred to other hospitals. “We don’t have that option here,” says Simon. “Unlike a traditional disaster, like a forest fire, by definition a pandemic is everywhere.”
  • Doctors and nurses from other areas of the hospital, such as intensive care, can be transferred to the ICU if they have sufficient intensive care training. “This is the shortage we face – these critical care nurses,” says Simon.

While California law states that the nurse-to-patient ratio in the ICU cannot exceed 1: 2, California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that hospitals can request that the ratio be increased to 1: 3.

The change met fierce opposition from the California Nurses Association, which hosted a virtual press conference on Wednesday warning that the increased ratio could compromise care and lead to more deaths.

In response, the California Hospital Association stressed that the waiver is temporary, hospitals must apply for it, and only applies to units in which COVID patients are being cared for.

The situation in intensive care could worsen, warn public health experts, especially if people continue to congregate and travel. Newsom has ordered 5,000 body bags in anticipation of further deaths from COVID-19.

In an effort to convince people to stay home and cut the cost, the California Department of Public Health on Thursday launched its “Mothers” campaign, Love Means Staying Away, with real moms appearing on videos urging them to stay home. people to stay at home during the December holidays. and don’t celebrate with the extended family. According to public health officials, the goal is to turn to virtual events instead, like opening gifts via video calls, baking cookies online, etc.

Other state campaigns have used hospital heads and nurses, Simon says, “really begging people to stay home this Christmas.”

Even when a hospital’s ICU has no capacity, health care experts say, it’s important for people with serious illnesses, such as heart attacks and potential strokes, to always look for help in a hospital.

WebMD Health News


California Department of Public Health: “California Department of Public Health Launches Mothers Advertising Campaign Urging Families to Stay Home During Holidays,” “State officials announce latest facts about COVID-19. “

David Simon, spokesperson, California Hospital Association. “Tracking COVID-19 in California”.

Press conference, Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, December 15, 2020.

NBC News: “California orders thousands of body bags as COVID death toll rises.”

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