SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – For Caroline Brandenburger, the coronavirus epidemic that has engulfed California hospitals has a very personal charge.
“We had two deaths in this unit today. And that’s almost the norm, “said Brandenburger, who works in the COVID-19 ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, south of Los Angeles. “I usually see one to two on each shift. Super sad. “
“They fight every day and struggle to breathe every day, even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die, “Brandenburger said.”
For months, California has been avoiding outbreaks, but now the virus is breaking out of control there, as has been done in many other states. Arizona alone leads California in per capita cases, and with 40 million inhabitants, the vast state has seen a staggering number of cases: more than 2.5 million confirmed infections.
A wave after Halloween and Thanksgiving has led to record hospitalizations, and now the most seriously ill of these patients are dying in unprecedented numbers. California health authorities reported 583 new deaths and a record two-day total of 1,042 people on Thursday.
There have been more than 28,000 COVID-19 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.
There are nearly 22,000 hospitalizations, and government models predict that the number could reach 30,000 by February 1. Many hospitals in Los Angeles and other affected areas are already struggling to cope and warn that care may be needed as intensive care beds shrink.
Lawmakers and public health officials have repeatedly praised health workers as heroes as they fight to treat the infected. Many nurses who are already stretched are now caring for more patients than is normally allowed under state law, once the state begins granting exemptions that allow hospitals to temporarily circumvent the strict nurse-patient law.
The nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital illustrate the work-related tolls.
“This past week has been perhaps the most difficult for me physically and emotionally,” said Donna Rotchafer, a nurse at COVID-19. “I’ve been here for 21 years and I’ve seen more people leave last week – in the last few weeks indeed – then almost as a combination throughout my career as a nurse. “
“We see patients who are depleted of oxygen who are actually just suffering,” she said.
In the north of Los Angeles County, data released on Thursday showed a new daily workload of nearly 20,000, an increase of 66.5 percent from the previous day, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
More than 8,000 people hospitalized are the largest since the pandemic began last year, Garcetti said.
The county has a quarter of the state’s population, but accounts for about 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
Garseti said federal authorities must intervene to send vaccines, money, doctors and personal protective equipment to the region, noting that medical workers and PPE were flooded in New York when it reached its peak at the start of the pandemic.
“This is our peak and we need you,” Garcetti said. “We need national leadership, we need vaccines and resources to pay for them. Give us these and we know how to get the job done. “
Los Angeles is one of 14 counties in the two worst-affected regions – Southern California and the San Joaquin Agricultural Valley – that have been essentially without intensive care beds for patients with COVID-19 for about two weeks.
The availability of intensive care at hospitals in the Gulf region has dropped to its lowest level so far, falling from 7.4% to just 3.5% on Wednesday, according to state data. The region of Northern California, which includes 11 mainly smaller and rural counties, had the best capacity – about 25%.
Earlier this week, public health officials caught hospitals unprepared and left them to quarrel with new orders restricting minor operations and requiring hospitals that have scarce intensive care to accept patients from those who are exhausted, which could requires transferring patients hundreds of miles
During an earlier high tide, patients in Imperial County on the border with Mexico were sent to hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the current outbreak is so widespread that only 11 predominantly rural counties north of Sacramento and San Francisco are above the state’s threshold to have at least 15% capacity for coronavirus patients in intensive care beds. Those below this level are under stricter restrictions on business operations.
The biggest fear is that hospitals will focus on standardizing care in a few weeks, when people who ignore the rules of social distancing to get together with friends and relatives for Christmas and New Year start seeking medical help. .
Officials urged people to avoid mixing households or travel in the hope of slowing the spread of the infection and preventing what is called a surge.
In an effort to keep people closer to home, the Newsom administration has issued a tougher travel consultation, saying people outside the country are “very discouraged” from entering California, and Californians should avoid insignificant travel to more from 120 miles from home.
“The next two or three weeks will determine everything for us,” said Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles. “Our own behavior will dictate everything we do.”
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronain of Sacramento, John Antchak and Christopher Weber of Los Angeles and Gianni Har of San Francisco contributed to this story.