As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise, Mission Viejo health care workers beg community for support

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (KABC) -- Exhausted health care workers at Providence Mission Hospital are bracing for another surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations following gatherings during the holidays.

Tiffany Hughes, a COVID-19 intensive care unit nurse, and Dr. Tanya Dall, an emergency department physician, both told Eyewitness News via Zoom interviews on Friday about the ways staff at their hospital have created more ICU beds as hospitalizations continue to increase.

"It's like we walk into the emergency room and we're being steamrolled. It's like we are trying to go to war with an invisible enemy," Dr. Dall said.

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O.C. families now have the option to take COVID-19 tests at home, a welcome relief from the long lines and delayed response times experienced across the Southland.

"Right now, with all of the beds being at capacity, we just kind of have to roll with it when they come in because there will be a much larger surge now," Hughes said.

According to the California Department of Public Health, in just the last two weeks of the year, COVID-19 hospitalizations increased nearly 35%.

In 2020, Dr. Dall, now a mother of two, went from treating patients while pregnant, to giving birth, to figuring out ways to pump breastmilk at the hospital during the pandemic.

"The best I can do is just try to sanitize things as much as possible, wash my hands as frequently as possible and another thing that I'm excited about is I'm hoping that now that I'm vaccinated, maybe I can pass those antibodies to him," Dr. Dall said.

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UCI Health administrators say they've been preparing to deal with a post-holiday surge of COVID-19 cases for the last six months.

In the ICU, Nurse Tiffany Hughes, a single mom, was unable to spend the holidays with her six-year-old. Hughes usually works three days a week but said that has changed to four to five lately. Still, the ICU nurse found out on New Year's Eve that day-to-day life doesn't take a break.

"I was heading out to go to my parents' house to drop my daughter off 'cause I worked this weekend and my car had been broken into, so I was like, that's an epic way to end this year," Hughes said laughing.

On New Year's Day, both women braced for what's to come following gatherings during the holidays and asked their community to lend a hand.

"Please, be vigilant, avoid large crowds, wear your masks. If we can just have the community's support, just a little longer, I am hopeful that we will all be able to get through this," Dr. Dall said.

"Help us out because we're already at capacity so you gotta do your part so we can do ours," Hughes said.

According to state data, in O.C., December's daily average hospitalizations because of the virus were more than double those during the summer spike in July.
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