California reports record 379 COVID deaths as hospitals pushed to capacity


California health authorities reported Thursday a record 379 coronavirus deaths and more than 52,000 new confirmed cases as the crisis over care of the sick deepened.

The staggering new figures mean California has seen more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days and nearly 106,000 confirmed cases in just two days.

The pandemic death toll reached 21,860 in California, which has also seen the most cases in the U.S. with more than 1.7 million confirmed.

Many of the state’s hospitals are now running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-COVID patients.

“It’s pretty much all COVID,” said Arlene Brion, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital in Orange County, where she’s assigned six or seven patients rather than the usual one to three. “There’s probably two areas that are clean but we’re all thinking eventually it’s all going to be COVID.”

The massive rise in infections began in October and is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others. More recently, health officials said they’ve seen cases stemming from gatherings during Halloween and Thanksgiving and have pleaded with residents to avoid getting together with people from other households over Christmas and New Year’s.

Based on the science of transmission of COVID-19, the “devastation we are experiencing now” is due to infected people being in close or direct contact with another person or group long enough to infect them, said Dr. Muntu Davis, the Los Angeles County health officer.

Setback to stay-at-home order

Meanwhile, a California judge said Thursday that all restaurants in San Diego County can resume on-site dining with safety protocols, marking a setback to the governor’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil said his ruling Wednesday that also protected two strip clubs extended to the thousands of eateries in the county of three million people.

County officials had suspended enforcement of restrictions barring indoor and outdoor dining and live entertainment on Wednesday and requested the hearing to get clarification from the judge about the scope of his ruling.

The ruling came after two strip clubs, Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club and Pacers Showgirls International, sued the county over an order in October to shut down.

Medical intensive care unit manager Lindsey Ryan, centre, discusses upcoming staffing with registered nurses Emily Garcia, left, and Jerrylyn Abalos in the ICU at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, San Diego County, Calif., on Tuesday. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

‘We’re treated like we’re expendable’

Amy Arlund, a nurse at the COVID-19 unit at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, said it takes counselling for her to be able to show up for work every day, and she is frustrated that her community is again going through a surge of infections.

“We’re treated like we’re expendable,” she said. “We’re supposed to be the most trusted profession in the United States, and if we are so well trusted, why aren’t people listening to us?”

WATCH | U.S. hospitals under pressure as COVID-19 cases surge:

Hospitals across the U.S. are now seeing more COVID-19 patients than at any other time in the pandemic. Many are nearing their limit, while some states have built field hospitals to boost capacity. 2:01

California had 83 patients in five alternative care facilities on Thursday, including a former NBA arena in Sacramento and two state-run developmental centres, with immediate room for 30 more. Another 1,555 beds were in what state officials are calling “warm status,” meaning they can be ramped up within days to receive patients, expected to be at the skilled nursing level of care.

“It’s a combination of both hospital overflow and skilled nursing overflow,” said Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Services, with the need varying by location. He couldn’t say if any have tested positive for the coronavirus, citing patient privacy laws.

State officials also are continuing to talk with the Defence Department about using the staff from the USNS Mercy hospital ship, even if they don’t use the ship itself, Ferguson said, but the state has made no formal request. The Mercy was brought to Los Angeles for a time early in the pandemic to take pressure off hospitals by handling non-COVID cases.

San Francisco orders travel quarantine

In San Francisco, public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said Thursday a travel quarantine is being ordered due to the high number of cases in other parts of the state and country. The city is averaging a record high of 242 new cases a day, although the rate of increase has “slowed just a bit,” meaning there’s still time to turn the “dire situation” around, he said.

San Francisco will require a mandatory quarantine of 10 days for anyone coming to the city from outside the 10-county San Francisco Bay Area. The order also discourages non-essential travel within the region. It goes into effect Friday and expires Jan. 4.

The travel quarantine exempts medical professionals, first responders, and government and other essential workers traveling for essential purposes. People travelling because they need medical care or ordered by a court are also exempt.

Brion, the respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley, said patients seem to be arriving much sicker than earlier in the pandemic.

“This is probably the worst that I’ve seen with this virus,” she said. “It’s hard to see because we know all these patients are eventually not going to do well.”

Arlund, the Fresno nurse, described heartbreaking scenes.

“We have to watch these patients suffer in terrible ways and they suffer in isolation and alone because it’s the only way that we can prevent their family members and visitors from getting this virus,” she said.

Dr. Ali Jamehdor, medical director of the Dignity Health–St. Mary Medical Center emergency department, stands in front of a COVID-19 triage tent for patients with symptoms in Long Beach, Calif., on Thursday. (Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)

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