Orange County

Mobile Field Hospitals Are Being Set Up to Handle Orange County's Coronavirus Surge

At least three medical facilities have requested mobile field hospitals, which could begin operations as early as next week.

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Construction is expected to begin Wednesday on at least one mobile field hospital in Orange County as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations reach record highs. 

At least three hospitals have requested the mobile field hospitals in response to the alarming figures. Here's where they'll be located.

  • Fountain Valley Regional Hospital: 50 beds
  • St. Jude Medical Center, Fullerton: 25 beds
  • University of California, Irvine: 50 beds
This illustration provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency shows a mobile field hospital design. Credit: OCHCA

The county reported 2,173 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, raising the cumulative case total to 107,937. Hospitalizations grew from 1,287 Monday to 1,371 Tuesday, including 296 ICU patients, up from 288 the previous day. 

Both are new records -- a daily occurrence since last week.

The consistently high numbers have strained the county ICU bed availability, which increased from 9.3% Monday to 10.4% in the unadjusted category, and increased from zero to 1.4% in the “adjusted'' metric the state created to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The 11-county Southern California region's percentage of available ICU beds stands at 1.7%.

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To address the need, mobile field hospitals are being set up and will be housed in large trailers and include canvas tents with hard flooring and temperature-controlled units that feature running water, toilets, showers and generators as well as air purifiers. Fountain Valley Regional Hospital will get 50 more beds, St. Jude's in Fullerton will receive 25 beds and UC Irvine will get 50 beds.

I lose sleep every night. I am afraid. I've never been so afraid of Christmas and New Year's in my whole life.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency

“We’ve seen a lot of surge tents that have gone up at hospitals around the region,” said UCI spokesman John Murray. “That’s usually to handle overflow for things like emergency departments, patients who are waiting, they want to provide them shelter. This is really something a little bit different.”

It was not immediately clear how the field hospitals will be staffed and what types of patients will be treated.

“We have a group that’s getting together over the next couple of days to decide ,” said UCI spokesman John Murray. “The vendor will be on-site early next week to put up the mobile field hospital.”

Dr. Vahe Gyulnazaryan discusses the challenges raised by the latest surge in coronavirus cases and how it's different from before. Video broadcast Wednesday Dec. 16, 2020 on Today in LA.

Construction is expected to start Wednesday in an empty lot next to UCI Medical Center. The mobile field hospital might be ready to start operations by the end fo next week.

Orange County is awaiting its first shipment of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, which will be distributed to medical workers. About 25,000 doses are expected to arrive Wednesday, according to Orange County CEO Frank Kim.

As has been the case for months, dozens of residents appealed to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to ignore the state's stay-at-home order and railed about face coverings. Orange County counsel Leon Page explained that Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order is the final say on the stay-at-home order and the county cannot do anything to change it.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, made an emotional appeal to residents to adhere to physical distancing and face-covering mandates.

“The one thing we know is people should stay at home when sick, do not mix households and wear a mask, and do all the cleaning measures like washing hands, etc.,'' Chau said. ``That's the only thing that works.''

Chau speculated that new treatments have perhaps helped keep most of the hospitalized patients out of intensive care.

“But people are still ending up in the hospital and still in ICU,'' Chau said. ``Without all these newly approved treatment options the number of those in ICU would probably be worse.''

County health officials are particularly struggling with housing the elderly with dementia, who are infected and do not exhibit symptoms, Chau said.

“We can't send them to a hospital... They don't need that level of care,'' Chau said. ``And we can't send them to a nursing facility... and we can't send them to a hotel.''

Those patients will likely be housed at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, which is expected to open on Thursday.

“But we only have the availability of 50 beds,'' Chau said. ``We're going to run out of options to take care of these people.” 

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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