Orange County hospitals, which are already at record levels of coronavirus patients, are likely to see even more virus patients in the coming weeks after two weeks of sharp increases of newly-reported cases.
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“I will say in general we saw an increase in cases in the last two weeks at multiple hospitals in Orange County and we expect that to lead to an increase in hospitalizations, in fact it is leading to an increase in hospitalizations,” said UC Irvine Dr. Saahir Khan, who works in the UCI Medical Center intensive care unit.
After virus patients are admitted to the hospital, Khan said some patients will be moved into ICUs shortly after that.
“Unfortunately that is followed by ICU admissions in one to two weeks, given the nature of the disease.”
Just under 40 percent of ICU beds are available, according to the county Health Care Agency.
County officials said that number reflects current beds, not ICU beds that can be created through immediate capacity expansion, known as surge capacity.
But Khan said there still may not be enough staffing for those beds.
“So one recent example is Palm Springs Eisenhower Hospital, they have the US military coming in and helping them with staffing, particularly. Even though they have enough beds for the patients, they have to get outside staffing,” Khan said.
“Based on the numbers, I am concerned that we will get to that point.”
County Health Care Agency Director and acting Public Health Officer Clayton Chau at a Thursday news conference said the number of ICU beds “has been fluctuating up and down” and was hesitant to call the situation stable.
“The bottom line is we have capacity as it relates to beds available,” he said, but added county officials “always have concerns of staffing” and that the county Health Care Agency “early on” entered into “several contracts” with temp nurse groups that “will connect with the individuals hospitals who have staffing support (needs).”
He added that state officials could also provide additional nursing resources, and that they have for one hospital in the county already.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus has now killed 466 people out of 27,904 confirmed cases, according to the OC Health Care Agency.
The total deaths include 11 new deaths reported Thursday.
The county also reported 873 new positive cases.
There are also 711 people hospitalized as of Thursday — down 11 from Wednesday, and there are 245 people in intensive care units.
Virus patients stay longer than non-virus ICU patients, Khan said.
“The average time a coronavirus patient is in the ICU is on the order of two weeks, it’s getting slightly better with some of our treatment protocols, But that is much longer than the average time non-Coronavirus patients stay in the ICU, which is closer to three days.”
Just over 334,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
The OC office of Emergency Medical Services has been tracking hospitalizations through its daily situation report. The reports have been expressing concerns over hospitalization trends.
“Hospital Surge Plans are already activated to an extent, as conditions worsen,” reads a Wednesday situation report from the county office of Emergency Medical Services.
“The trends are very concerning and we can continue to expect the impact on the healthcare system to get worse in the coming days and weeks,” states the report.
Khan said he’s concerned that critical care nurses in ICUs will have too many patients.
“The standard ratio for intensive care is two patients per nurse. And the reason for that is ICU patients need to be more closely monitored and the primary way that’s done is having nurses whose attention is on the patient,” he said.
“In my experience anytime that ratio is not maintained, it can lead to detriment in patient care. As I mentioned before based on the trends and the numbers, I’m concerned that we may have difficulty maintaining that ratio in Orange County.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.