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L.A. County is out of ICU beds and dangerously low on oxygen

As if things couldn’t get any worse than they already are, there are now so many patients in Southern California’s hospitals that patients are waiting as long as eight hours in ambulances before they can enter an emergency room, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It has even gotten so bad that some health officials are asking people to avoid hospital Emergency Rooms and try not to call 911 for help unless it is absolutely necessary,

“Everything we’re worried about and talked about and warned people about since February is coming to fruition—we’re at that point now,” said a Santa Monica neurosurgeon. Hospital officials have discussed rationing care.

There is a fear that Los Angeles area hospitals are approaching the situation in New York City last April, where hospitals were overwhelmed with critically ill COVID patients, reports

“We have no ICU beds,” says Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of LAC+USC Medical Center, one of the area’s largest hospitals. “We are just continually, 24 hours a day, scrambling to move patients around. The flood just continues.”

When asked what the situation looked like from the inside, Spellberg says it’s like “battlefield medicine,” a frantic race to save lives when there aren’t enough staffers to cope: “You’ve got nurses that are assigned 20 patients when they’re only supposed to be assigned five. You’ve got doctors who haven’t managed a ventilator in 20 years suddenly being responsible to manage ventilators.”

A French first aid worker from the Protection Civile Paris Seine holds an oxygen mask over the mouth...

A French first aid worker from the Protection Civile Paris Seine holds an oxygen mask over the mouth and nose of a male patient suspected of being infected with COVID-19 a he lies in an ambulance

Oxygen is critical to treating COVID-19 patients who have begun to suffocate on account of their virus-inflamed lungs. Doctors have learned a lot about the virus over the past nine months, and one important lesson is to try as much as possible to keep patients off a ventilator.

Using a ventilator requires that a breathing tube be placed down a patient’s throat. Now doctors are giving patients high-flow oxygen treatment through a nasal cannula. While a non-COVID patient may receive six liters of oxygen per minute, COVID-19 patients need 60 to 80 liters a minute.

Now, a similar situation has hit some hospitals in Los Angeles County. The life-saving gas has become critical, and the stakes are high, as L.A. County saw its most-ever COVID-19 deaths in a single day: 140 on Christmas Eve.

There have been periods of time where hospitals have run dangerously low on their stores of oxygen before obtaining additional supplies, said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Hospitals have implemented their surge plans and are adjusting staffing and space to try to meet the needs of their community,” Dr. Sharon Balter, the county’s chief of communicable disease control and prevention, wrote in the memo distributed to area hospitals.

“It is critical that as a healthcare community we look at all available opportunities to help decrease the surge on hospitals and our 911 system, where possible.”

“There are very limited hospital and ICU beds available, and emergency departments are strained to capacity,” Balter wrote. According to Johns Hopkins University, Los Angeles County has recorded 678,040 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,305 deaths as of December 26, 2020.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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