Southern California is so overwhelmed with coronavirus cases that patients are lining up trying to get into hospitals, and corpses get stuck in another logjam once they leave.
Only Arizona tops California in cases per resident and, with nearly 40 million residents, the huge coastal state is seeing staggering caseloads: more than 2.5m confirmed infections.
Holiday surge triggered the crisis
A surge following Halloween and Thanksgiving produced record hospitalizations, and now the most seriously ill of those patients are dying in unprecedented numbers.
California health authorities reported 583 new deaths on Thursday, and a record two-day total of 1,042. Hospitalizations are nearing 22,000, and state models project the number could reach 30,000 by 1 February.
Despite strict stay-at-home measures that were fortified across most of the state last month, California, the most populous state with nearly 40 million people, leads the United States with nearly 2.6 million COVID-19 cases, over a million more than the next state, according to a Reuters tally of official data. Its death toll of more than 28,000 trails only those of New York and Texas.
At one hospital in Orange County, ambulances loaded with patients are lining up outside waiting for space in the intensive care unit, and COVID-19 patients fill the emergency room hallway.
Refrigerated trailers for extra corpse-storage capacity
In nearby Los Angeles County, where people are dying of the disease at the rate of one every eight minutes, and other hard-hit areas, refrigerated trailers will be brought in to provide extra corpse-storage capacity.
With the bodies accumulating, the California Office of Emergency Services said it has arranged to send 88 trailers to needy areas around the state. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office headquarters will receive 10 morgue trailers, in addition to 12 set up there in April, said spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
“When we get filled up with COVID patients, we can’t take care of the community in general,” said Dr. Jim Keany, 54, the managing partner for emergency physicians at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. “Every bed is full, every nurse and doctor is occupied taking care of COVID patients.”
One patient waited in the ambulance more than five hours before being admitted, Keany said.
All hospitals have reached capacity
Rightly so, lawmakers and public health officials have repeatedly praised medical workers as heroes as they struggle to treat the infected. However, many nurses already stretched thin are now caring for more patients than typically allowed under state law after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict nurse-to-patient ratio law.
Orange County officials had previously allowed hospitals to divert patients elsewhere when they were full, but now that virtually all the hospitals have reached capacity that policy has been rescinded, resulting in long waits for treatment, Keany said.
“It’s real, it’s life-threatening”
Dr. Robert Goldberg, 44, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Providence Mission Hospital, called on the public to help reduce the threat by wearing masks, maintaining social distance and getting the vaccine once it becomes available.
“COVID is real. It’s life-threatening,” Goldberg said. “People of all ages are dying. We need to work together. We need to get through this together.”