ICU capacity in Southern California sinks to 0 percent

The Pomona Valley Medical Center Hospital stands in front of snowy mountain peaks.
Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, a four-mile drive from the Claremont Colleges and one of the closest hospitals to the city of Claremont, paused all elective surgeries and operations which require post-operative hospital admission. (Courtesy of Frank Jr. via Wikimedia Commons)

The percentage of intensive care unit beds available in Southern California dropped to zero percent Thursday, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The metric, down from the 0.5 percent ICU availability reported Wednesday, is an all-time low for a region that encompasses 11 counties, including the Claremont Colleges’ Los Angeles County. 

Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that stay-at-home orders would be triggered if ICU beds dropped below 15 percent capacity. The statewide ICU availability is at 3 percent, and 98.3 percent of the state’s population has been placed under regional stay-at-home orders, including LA County, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.

“Our hospitals are under siege, and our model shows no end in sight,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, LA County Health Services director, said at a press conference Wednesday. “I have not said this before, because Los Angeles County has not been in this situation in the pandemic before, but the worst is still before us.”

The same model, Ghaly said, “predicts that the number of patients requiring ICU care in LA County within a month could easily exceed the total number of licensed adult ICU beds … by a thousand or more.”

Claremont’s cumulative COVID-19 case rate as of Wednesday is 2,826 positive cases per 100,000 residents, according to LA County’s website. In the past 14 days, the city has had 798 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Southern California region’s seven-day average case rate is 712 cases per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times

Claremont does not have a hospital within city limits, and community members often defer to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, a 412-bed hospital a four-mile drive from the 5C campuses. 

PVHMC postponed all elective surgeries and procedures which require hospital admission after operation, according to the Claremont Courier. It has a surge plan in place for its intensive care unit.

County health officials, though, warned that demand for intensive hospital care has not yet hit its peak.

Ghaly said the demand for hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in the county will “far surpass any ability of a hospital to surge” in coming weeks, with an estimated need for 5,500 to 9,000 hospital beds. As of Wednesday, there were 5,100 positive COVID-19 patients hospitalized in LA County, according to the state dashboard.

“There are simply not enough trained staff to care for the volume of patients that are projected to come and need care,” Ghaly said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated LA County and the Los Angeles Times’ tallies of 2,826 and 798 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents were daily and weekly average rates, respectively. The tallies were all-time and 14-day cumulative counts per 100,000 residents. TSL regrets this error.
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