(CN) — California will likely extend stay-at-home orders for some of the hardest hit regions Tuesday due to a Covid surge that has pushed hospitals to a breaking point and because many people ignored warnings against travel during the winter holidays.
The Golden State has become the nation’s coronavirus epicenter in recent weeks, overrunning hospitals with record-breaking numbers of admissions and deaths after Thanksgiving. Now the state faces a post-Christmas surge moving into the new year.
Governor Gavin Newsom said it’s all but inevitable that state health officials will extend the regional health order for the Southern California region and others where Covid-19 is running rampant.
“Now as we move into this new phase — a phase where we brace, where we prepare ourselves for what is inevitable now,” Newsom said during a Monday briefing. “Based on the movement, based on the travel we have seen in just the last week and the expectation of more of the same through the rest of the holiday season: of a surge on top of, arguably, on top of again another surge.”
Newsom said cellphone data showed that large numbers of people traveled over the winter holidays. The Transportation Security Administration reported screening 1.28 million people at airport checkpoints on Dec. 26 alone.
At the same time, Los Angeles County hospitals turned away ambulances arriving with the large influx of patients sick with the virus. And health care providers in the San Joaquin Valley region reported their ICUs are also full and at surge capacity.
The three-week stay-at-home orders for those regions had been set to expire Jan. 4. But Newsom said LA County’s 13,000 to 15,000 new cases daily for the last several days support new health orders — though he didn't specify what that will entail.
“This is now taking its toll on hospitals,” said Newsom, who is quarantining at home after being exposed to a staffer with Covid-19. It's the second time Newsom has been quarantined in recent months, but he and his family continue to test negative for the virus.
The dark cloud hanging over California has some silver linings, however. The state will receive over 1.7 million Covid-19 vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer, which will be administered to health care workers and residents at skilled nursing homes in the coming days.
Walgreens and CVS pharmacies across the state will handle vaccinations except in LA County, which will administer the vaccines through its own program.
Hospitalizations have also leveled off in recent days — except in Southern California.
On Sunday, LA County added over 13,000 new infections to its total of more than 719,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. Roughly 1 in 95 of the region’s 10 million residents have the virus, which has so far claimed over 8,900 Angelenos.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the latest surge is alarming and could have been avoided.
“And frankly the alarm was pulled over a month ago. But people did not heed that warning,” said Solis. “Some days we’re seeing 200 to 300 additional hospitalized each day. More than ever are dying: 148 people died of Covid-19 on Christmas Eve alone. One person is dying from Covid every 10 minutes in LA County. These are figures that cannot be normalized.”
Hospitalizations in recent days jumped to levels 1,000% higher than the spring, with some 6,900 Angelenos hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Monday. In the last 24 hours, LA County reported over 13,000 new cases and over 70 deaths, but that figure will likely go up in the next few days due to a lag in reported deaths over the holiday break.
“It has been hard to find joy this holiday season in light of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on some many across this county. The sad reality is our situation will only get worse as we begin 2021,” said LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer during a Monday briefing.
Every new person who cannot catch their breath in the coming weeks will join thousands more in LA County hospitals who are struggling to stay alive.
The county only has 54 available ICU beds for both adults and children, and hospital personnel have taken to treating patients in conference rooms, gift shops and even in ambulances idling outside facilities that are too full to receive the sick.
The glut of travelers who flouted health orders does not bode well for hospitals across the state, but especially in LA according to County Health Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.
"The most concerning part of what we’re facing is that as sad as it is, the worst is almost certainly yet to come," said Ghaly.
State officials have sent over 1,000 health workers to the southern part of the state in recent days due to the surge taxing hospitals there. Those include medical corps workers, the California National Guard and others health officials.
On Monday, California reported over 33,000 new cases and 64 deaths over a 24-hour period.
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