LOS ANGELES — Intensive-care unit capacity in Southern California hit 0% on Thursday, the latest indication that the recent surge of Covid-19 cases could overwhelm the health-care system here.
Although officials have said that hitting 0% doesn’t mean that no beds are available, Southern California’s ICU capacity has steadily eroded as case numbers have climbed.
Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of California’s 40 million people, on Wednesday announced more than 22,000 new cases and 138 deaths from Covid-19. Both figures were all-time highs for the county, though officials said the numbers were partly inflated by a backlog of test results from a single lab. In just over a month, average daily deaths have increased almost sevenfold, according to county officials.
“What we hear from some of our hospital partners is that many of them are making adjustments, in terms of whether or not elective procedures are being done in their facilities, many of them are also implementing their surge plans in order to take on more patients and trying to increase staffing,” Los Angeles County Health Officer Muntu Davis said Thursday.
California officials have broken the state into regions, based on where health systems share resources. Though the situation in Southern California, which includes 11 counties stretching from San Diego into the central part of the state, was most dire, other parts of the state are running low on ICU beds. The San Joaquin Valley region, in California’s agricultural heartland, was at 0.07% capacity on Thursday.
Eric Sergienko, the public health officer for Mariposa County, in the San Joaquin region and the interim officer for neighboring Tuolumne County, said his hospitals weren’t currently seeing a high number of Covid patients. But if the rural foothill counties experienced a significant outbreak, he would be concerned about finding a patient space in the nearby San Joaquin Valley, which serves his region.
“Right now we know that getting ICU beds in the San Joaquin Valley is a challenge,” Dr. Sergienko said. “The burden for us, should our department need to transfer someone, is that the emergency department clerk there literally is calling all of the emergency department clerks in the other hospitals, saying: ‘Hey have you got an ICU bed available?’ “
Statewide, ICU availability stood at 3% on Thursday, with more than half the beds filled with Covid-19 patients, state officials said. California reported more than 52,000 new cases on Wednesday, the second-highest total since the coronavirus pandemic began; there were more than 53,000 new cases on Tuesday.
Even in the San Francisco Bay Area, where ICU capacity is comparatively higher, at around 13%, some counties are out of beds and are refusing to take patients from outside.
“We are deeply concerned with the shortage of ICU beds in Southern California and the use of emergency department beds to house patients who need ICU-level care,” said Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. “The bottom line is that cases are surging across the state, and unless Californians follow the Regional Stay at Home Orders, we may simply run out of ICU space for patients who need it.”
California ranks lower than many states when it comes to intensive-care beds per population, according to data analyzed by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. The state had 2.1 intensive-care beds per 10,000 people in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. The national average was 2.7 beds per 10,000 people.
California ranks 11th among the states and Washington, D.C., with the same per capita number of beds as Connecticut and Maryland. Hawaii has the fewest number of these kinds of beds per capita and Washington D.C. has the most.