Orange County hospitals are being urged to activate surge plans and halt non-emergency surgeries in a late Wednesday night directive from the county Health Care Agency as coronavirus hospitalizations skyrocket.

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“The health care system in Orange County is now in crisis resulting from an overwhelming increase in the number of COVID infected patients,” reads the directive, issued by Dr. Carl Schultz, the Emergency Medical Services medical director. 

Schultz said hospitals could ease stress by cancelling all elective surgeries. 

Without intervention, county officials warn that Orange County’s emergency medical services could collapse. 

“At the current rate of deterioration, the EMS system may collapse unless emergency directives are implemented now,” Schultz wrote, referring to the services system that includes hospitals and ambulances.

“Ambulance EMTs are waiting hours just to transfer patients from their vehicles to emergency departments. This results in dangerous delays in initial patient assessments to ensure they don’t have an emergency medical condition,’ the directive states. “This results in dangerous delays in initial patient assessments to ensure they don’t have an emergency medical condition.”

As part of the emergency directive, Schultz is allowing all ambulances to drive to hospitals more than 20 minute from their standard destinations to hospitals that can immediately accept them. 

[Click here to read the emergency hospital directive from county officials.]

It’s a situation that secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, warned about at a Monday news conference. 

“You can wait only so long to put in a heart valve, or a catheter … they’re elective for a day or two, not months,” Ghaly said. “We want that capacity to be there for you when a car accident happens … or a heart attack or stroke.” 

Meanwhile, state public health officials have readied the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa to start taking stabilized coronavirus patients

Orange County cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing, along with the rest of the state. 

The county is quickly approaching 1,000 people hospitalized as the case increases and trends keep breaking OC records. 

As of Wednesday, 974 OC residents were in hospitals, including 239 people in intensive care units, according to state data.

That’s up from 183  on Nov. 1, a 432% increase. 

The county Health Care Agency reported 2,613 new cases on Wednesday — the highest number of daily new cases ever reported, so far.  

That bumped the average daily cases up to nearly 1,800 a day for the past week. State public health officials estimate 12 to 13% of new cases end up in the hospitals. 

UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Sanghyuk Shin, said he fears a Thanksgiving spike added into the already soaring hospitalizations and case increases. 

In a Tuesday phone interview, Shin said it’s difficult to tell if the Thanksgiving cases are hitting yet. 

“Just from the case data that I’m seeing, it’s hard to tease out if it’s a Thanksgiving effect,” he said. “Even prior to Thanksgiving, we were on a pretty dramatic upswing. So it’s really hard to tell apart if we’re seeing a Thanksgiving effect yet.” 

But he’s certain it’s coming. 

“It’s definitely coming. There’s no way around it,” 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

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