Orange County hospitals may need to start bringing in outside help to manage the wave of new coronavirus patients flooding hospital rooms and intensive care units, after cases increased nearly threefold since June.
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Dr. Saahir Khan, who cares for virus patients at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, said hospitals will likely need outside help.
“I think the help that we really need is staff and resources from other parts of the state and country. At least we have plans for parts of the hospital that could theoretically be converted into ICUs, but it’s not as if we have a workforce sitting at home waiting to be called in for a surge,” he said.
“So we are going to eventually reach a point where we will need help from the outside, the same way New York did.”
Khan also said hospitals can start partnering with long-term care facilities to handle virus patients that have somewhat stabilized, but still need constant medical care.
Dr. Paul Yost, former chairman of the CalOptima board, said new virus patients will head to hospitals in a couple weeks.
“We know that the time of diagnosis to the time of serious illness is a week to two weeks or so. So when we see this huge spike in cases, you can expect in a couple of weeks, we’ll see more hospitalizations,” said Yost, who works at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange.
Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 412 people out of 22,650 confirmed cases, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The cases have increased nearly threefold since June 1, when OC had 7,704 confirmed cases.
UCI epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said the case increases are likely from the various business reopenings that began Memorial Day weekend, like dine-in restaurants and shopping centers.
“It’s just the general reopening. Orange County wasn’t exactly the hotbed of protestors, I know there were some protests,” Noymer said. “It’s just the general reopening. It’s people going to restaurants and bars.”
There’s also 672 people hospitalized, including 227 in intensive care units.
Over 296,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
Yost said the increasing hospitalizations are starting to strain hospital resources.
“Our cases have been gradually increasing and right now we’re still able to handle that , we’re not overwhelmed, but it’s putting stress on the system,” Yost said. “We know the mortality rate is higher than the flu and the more people get infected, more people are going to die.”
Yost, an anesthesiologist who works in operating rooms, said he’s on standby for ICU shifts if the hospital enacts surge plans, which is creating more ICU beds and pulling staff from other parts of the hospital.
The county office of Emergency Medical Services issues a daily situation report about the virus, which on Friday called for protecting hospital capacity.
“The current metrics show a clear reflection of the disease progression and we need a reduction in disease transmission to protect the hospitals,” reads the report.
Once a surge hits, hospitals will likely have to cancel non-life-saving surgeries, called elective surgeries.
Khan said UCI hospital officials are debating the issue right now.
“It’s an ongoing discussion of whether we can support elective surgeries while also servicing the community for COVID 19,” he said.
Cancelling elective surgeries could be financially harmful for some hospitals, Khan said.
“I will say that there are a lot of hospitals that have been put under a lot of financial stress under COVID-19 and elective surgeries are one of the more profitable things that hospitals do. So, from a business stance, there is a lot of pressure to continue these surgeries,” Khan said. “But what I tell people is that, at a certain point, if COVID-19 overwhelms these hospitals, you’re not going to have a choice. So it’s better to plan out ahead.”
Yost said St. Joseph’s Hospital has already cancelled most elective surgeries and the ones they conduct are for serious conditions and are outpatient procedures to keep beds free.
“So we’re pushing the envelope as much as we can.”
Trends will likely worsen in a few weeks, Noymer said.
“We really can’t rule out 2,000 new cases a day by the end of the month. Given that hospitals are already stretched thin, that is really bad.”
Yost said people need to take health measures to help slow the spread so the hospitals aren’t overrun with virus cases.
“We know what works, we know that wearing masks and social distancing — basic public health measures — actually do work.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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