Southern California hospitals have very little room left in ICUs

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As they fill with COVID-19 patients, Southern California hospitals have reached a dangerously low level for available ICU capacity of 1.7%, according to state figures released Tuesday.

The capacity of hospital intensive care units to handle additional COVID-19 patients amid the surging pandemic is the key factor that determines whether a region falls under the state's stricter stay-at-home order.

The order is triggered for at least three weeks when a region falls under 15% - and four of the state's five regions are under that order now. Since Southern California fell under that 15% mark in early December, the region's ICU available capacity has continued to steadily drop.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the state's overall ICU available capacity stands at 5.7%

Still, with vaccine shipments arriving throughout California this week, Newsom said there is hope.

"Light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel," the governor said. "Going through the most challenging and difficult surge we've experienced since the beginning of this pandemic."

Hospitalizations in counties throughout Southern California continue to increase. In Los Angeles County there are 4,656 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19. That figure has steadily increased in recent weeks and is at the highest level it's been since the start of the pandemic.

With the increase in seriously ill patients, hospitals have been preparing for a surge in deaths as well. Newsom said the state has ordered 5,000 additional body bags and has 60 refrigerators on standby at hospitals around the state.

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"We're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic," Newsom said.

In Southern California, one local hospital had to bring in a refrigerated truck to potentially use as a morgue if its current facilities become overloaded. Officials with PIH Health in Whittier say the truck is part of the hospital's emergency management plan.

It was brought in as a precaution and is not being used yet.

"As with any emergency management plan, we look out to the future to forecast various scenarios and prepare accordingly to best care for our communities," said Debra Legan, PIH Health vice president for marketing and consumer engagement. "Part of these plans include having a large refrigerated truck on-site, for the use as a potential morgue. The hope is that we do not have to use it, but we have it should we need it."

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As Southern California hospitals overfill with COVID-19 patients, one medical facility is preparing for a potential surge in deaths by bringing in a refrigerated truck to supplement its current morgue facilities.

  • Available ICU capacity for California regions:

  • Southern California: 1.7%

  • San Joaquin Valley: 1.6%

  • Bay Area: 15.8%

  • Greater Sacramento: 14.9%

  • Northern California: 29.8%

    • COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Southern California by county:

  • Los Angeles: 4,656

  • Orange: 1,371

  • Riverside: 972

  • San Bernardino: 1,319

  • Ventura: 210
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