Hospitals struggling to provide enough oxygen for the sickest coronavirus patients in the Los Angeles area began to receive help over the weekend when U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived to update their oxygen delivery systems.
The collaboration comes as the six aging hospitals struggle to maintain oxygen pressure while treating an unprecedented number of patients with respiratory issues. Besides the shortage of oxygen, the hospitals were having difficulty keeping up with demand for oxygen tanks for discharged patients to take home.
Some COVID-19 patients can require 10 times as much oxygen as a normal patient.
Crews are expected to complete hospital assessments by Wednesday.
"We're trying to assess how we can reduce the strain on their facilities and their mechanical space and O2 oxygen distribution as well," said Col Julie Balten, of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Additional oxygen trucks would connect to the hospitals' emergency oxygen systems, if needed.
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California started the new year on Friday by reporting a record 585 coronavirus deaths in a single day. The state Department of Public Health on Saturday reported another 386 deaths and more than than 53,341 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 2.3 million.
A total of 26,357 people have died from the virus in California, making it the third state to exceed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, behind New York with nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas with more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
More than 20,000 people were hospitalized as of Saturday with COVID-19; 4,500 of them were in intensive care, according to state records.
The southern half of the state has seen the worst effects, from the agricultural San Joaquin Valley to the Mexico border. Hospitals are swamped with patients and intensive care units don’t have any more beds for COVID-19 patients. Makeshift wards are being set up in tents, arenas, classrooms and conference rooms.
Ambulances were being forced to wait in bays as long as eight hours before they could transfer patients inside hospitals — and in some cases, doctors were treating patients inside ambulances, said Cathy Chidester, director of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency.
Meanwhile, refrigerated trucks were on standby, ready to store the dead and mortuaries are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space.
More than 7,600 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a fourth of the state’s population of nearly 40 million but has seen 40% of its virus deaths. LA County on Friday reported 20,414 new confirmed virus cases, indicating a spike in cases after the Christmas holiday.