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Many California ICUs maxed out on space as health officials say the peak hasn't even come: 'It is the worst we have seen'


Dire situation

Photo by NEIL HALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Many intensive care units in California hospitals are entirely overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, according to a Wednesday report from the Los Angeles Times.

The disturbing news comes on the heels of newly announced stay-at-home orders as coronavirus surges across the state.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimate that there have been at least 1,422,341 confirmed COVID-19 cases in California at the time of this reporting, with at least 20,275 fatalities attributed to the virus.

It seems fair to point out that the state of California has had some of the strictest lockdown orders and mask-wearing mandates across the country since the start of the pandemic.

At the time of this reporting, all California residents are ordered to shelter in place "except for permitted work" and "local shopping or other permitted errands."

What are the details?

Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County's interim health official, said that the county's intensive care units have hit a 0% capacity rate. Fresno County boasts a population of approximately 1 million residents.

"All the things that you're hearing about how impacted our hospitals are, about how dire this situation is with our ICUs is, it's absolutely true," Vohra added. "That really is the reason that we want everyone to stay home as much as possible, at least for the next few weeks until we get this surge under control, as we try to work through the hospitalization that are just coming in so quickly and try to provide the best care."

Fresno County Emergency Medical Services Director Dan Lynch said that the county is aiming to activate an alternate care site — which could hold 123 people — for overflow patients beginning on Monday.

The Times reported that at least three counties in the San Joaquin Valley area have also reached maximum capacity in their ICUs and pointed out that the area — California's agricultural hub — is the first in the state to be maxed out.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly addressed further staffing shortages at San Joaquin Valley hospitals on Tuesday and said that the situation is quickly becoming insurmountable.

"We're fulfilling what we can," he said. "But it is getting harder. We know that staff is our main scarce resource. Our requests, both across the state and the nation, are hard to fulfill because of what's happening across America with COVID."

Dr. Ahmad Kamal of Santa Clara County — where health officials estimate there is less than 10% of the county's ICU capacity available — said that the alarming rise in hospitalizations is only getting worse.

"It is the worst we have seen, and it's continuing to worsen," Kamal said.

"Though Central California is the first area in the state to hit 0% ICU capacity, it will not be the last," the Times noted. "The latest data show that the entire San Joaquin Valley's ICU capacity is down to 5.6%, and the Southern California region is hovering around 10.1%."

Vohra added, "I don't think we've seen the peak. I think the peak is yet to come, and I'm very concerned that our hospitals will not be able to meet the demands that will be placed on them."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ordered on Dec. 3 a "Regional Stay Home Order" as well as a supplemental order which "clarifies retail operations" and prohibits "private gatherings of any size, close sector operations except for critical infrastructure and retail, and require 100% masking and physical distancing in all others."

"Once triggered, these orders will remain in effect for at least 3 weeks," according to California's COVID-19 information portal. "After that period, they will be lifted when a region's projected ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15%. This will be assessed on a weekly basis after the initial 3 week period."

This post has been updated for clarity.

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