ICU Capacity Drops to 0% in Southern California Region as Coronavirus Cases Soar

On Thursday, California reported 52,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day. That's about equal to what the nation was averaging in mid-October. 

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Available intensive care unit capacity dwindled to zero precent in Southern California Thursday as the state faces a coronavirus crisis that seems to get worse by the day.

The state released the following ICU capacity figures by region early Thursday afternoon. They reflect the dire situation in the nation's most populous state, where more than 16,000 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in California. That's nearly triple from the number one month ago.

  • Bay Area: 13.1%
  • Greater Sacramento Region: 11.3%
  • Northern California: 25.8%
  • San Joaquin Valley: 0.7%
  • Southern California: 0.0% 

The Southern California region includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The 0% figure, though alarming, does not necessarily mean there are no iCU beds available in the large Southern California region. The state adjusts the percentage downward if counties have a higher-than-expected ratio of COVID-19 patients occupying ICU spaces. It's a number that frequently changes as new patients are admitted or stabilized, no longer requiring the level of treatment delivered in an ICU.

The state provides daily updates on ICU capacity, a figure that declined to 0% Thursday from 0.5% on Wednesday. More than 50% of the state's ICU capacity is filled with COVID-19 patients, according to the state's latest figures -- a sign that the surge in cases is taking a toll on California's health care system.

The state is averaging more than 35,000 new cases per day. About 12 percent of them (4,200) end up in hospitals, according to health officials. 

On Thursday, California reported 52,000 new cases in a single day. That's about equal to what the nation was averaging in mid-October. A record 379 deaths also were reported Thursday -- another single-day record.

At St. Mary Medical Center in Southern California’s Apple Valley, patients are triaged outside in tents, and the hospital put up temporary walls in its lobby to make more room to treat those with COVID-19. Patients are also being treated in the halls on gurneys or chairs, sometimes for days, because there is nowhere else to put them, said Randall Castillo, the hospital’s chief executive.

Dr. Nasim Afsar, chief operating officer at UCI Health in Orange County, described an unrelenting churn of patients, many of them left to wait in the ER until a bed elsewhere in the hospital opens up.

“Every day we work through and we discharge the appropriate number of people, and by the next day all of those beds are again filled up,” she said. “Where the bottleneck is is the large number of patients who come to the emergency room and need to be admitted and there’s not a bed for them.”

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Dr. Denise Whitfield, an emergency room physician at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said ambulance crews are left waiting around for patients to be seen.

“Over the last nine months that we’ve been dealing with this COVID pandemic, I can say that it’s been the worst that I’ve seen things in terms of looking at our capacity to care for our patients,” she said.

Authorities plan to construct field hospitals in multiple locations in the state, with three set to go up in Orange County.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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