California hospitals grapple with COVID-19 surge: 6 things to know

COVID-19 cases in California are up nearly 14 percent week over week, and hospitalizations are continuing their record-breaking climb, according to The COVID Tracking Project.  

Here are six notes and updates about the state of affairs in California right now: 

1. The state is expected to extend strict stay-at-home orders Tuesday in areas where intensive care units are running out of beds, according to ABC News. State figures show hospital ICUs in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no capacity, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said his latest stay-home order would be extended in regions where ICUs have less than 15 percent capacity.

2. The number of people in the California ICUs with COVID-19 is at an all-time high — 4,360 as of Dec. 28, according to The COVID Tracking Project. That is 147 percent higher than one month ago. 

3. In Los Angeles County, hospitals are facing problems with oxygen supplies and distribution. A non-COVID patient may receive six liters of oxygen per minute, but COVID-19 patients need 60 to 80 liters a minute. Oxygen canisters are in short supply, and aging hospital pipes are breaking down due to the amount of oxygen needed to be delivered. The latter is forcing some hospitals to move patients to lower floors, where it is easier to deliver oxygen, the Los Angeles Times reports.

4. Elaine Batchlor, MD, CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, told CNN Monday that the hospital is so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases that patients are now being treated in the gift shop and chapel.

5. Mr. Newsom has relaxed the state's nurse-to-patient ratio law, which gives hospitals the option to increase the number of patients per nurse — 170 hospitals have done so. Intensive care unit nurses can now care for three patients instead of two; emergency room and telemetry nurses can care for six patients instead of four; and medical-surgical nurses can care for seven patients instead of five. Some nurses are worried the current nurse-to-patient ratios will become permanent.

6. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has deemed the surge in COVID-19 cases "catastrophic" and asked the film industry to "strongly consider" pausing production for a few weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases. "Although music, TV and film productions are allowed to operate, we ask you to strongly consider pausing work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in COVID cases," the LADPH wrote in an email to industry contacts Dec. 24, Vulture reports.


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