Southern California's ICU Capacity Falls To Zero Percent

Paige Austin

LOS ANGELES, CA — Intensive Care Unit beds dropped to 0 percent capacity across the Southland Thursday, reflecting the onslaught of coronavirus patients overburdening hospitals across 11 counties.

The 11 county region includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Orange County, which hit zero capacity earlier this week, has begun rolling out field hospitals, but the shortage has more to do with staffing constraints than bed space, according to hospital officials.

ICU capacity fluctuates throughout a given day as patients come and go, and it generally refers to a hospital's staffing ability to care for acute patients. Thursday's plummet to zero capacity comes precisely three weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday. Hospitalizations generally lag behind new case diagnoses by about two to three weeks.

That means that this week's skyrocketing new caseloads across Southern California have yet to impact the hospitals, portending a dire situation over the next month. Between 10 and 15 percent of newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients end up being hospitalized at some point, according to state health officials. For perspective, Los Angeles County recorded 21,411 new cases Wednesday, and If even 10 percent of those patients require hospitalization then Los Angeles County will see hospitalizations grow exponentially. The county is averaging about 600 daily coronavirus hospitalizations as of now, but that number is expected to grow to between 750 to 1,350 new COVID-19 admissions per day by the end of December, said County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly.

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About 21 percent of the county's 4,656 COVID-19 patients are being treated in intensive care units. Health officials expect to see the death toll climb following spiking hospitalizations and new cases. On Wednesday, the state's most populous county recorded 138 deaths - the deadliest day of the pandemic so far.

According to Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, about two people in the county are dying from COVID- 19 every hour. State officials focused aid efforts this week on the death toll, ordering 5,000 body bags and mobile morgue units to be sent to Southern California.

City News Service contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Patch