COVID-19 daily case counts, hospitalizations and deaths hit record highs even before Thanksgiving, and local health officials are saying this does not bode well for the region.
Now the overwhelming of healthcare systems is very much a reality.
Currently ICU beds statewide are at 75% capacity, and the projected total of ICU beds that will be occupied this Christmas Eve is 112%.
That means the state will meet its ICU capacity in a few weeks.
There are currently almost 100,000 hospitalizations in California.
In Southern California, 74% of the ICU beds are currently occupied, and 107% of ICU beds are projected to be occupied on Christmas Eve. Southern California is predicted to hit ICU capacity in mid- to late December.
“Having the capacity to care for COVID-19 patients is our greatest concern for the coming weeks,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, told the News-Press Thursday. “Current Cottage Health capacity aligns with Southern California’s average of about 74%, and the numbers change daily.
“As we see more patients needing hospital care for COVID, we are working hard to keep pace with these needs. Like other regions in California, our capacity is not only limited by beds, but also staffing and ongoing medical needs unrelated to COVID.”
As of Thursday, Cottage Health was caring for a total of 277 patients across all campuses, 247 of which were acute care patients. There were still 141 acute care beds available.
“The ability to staff open beds is going to be our greatest challenge,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “We ask the community to partner in staying safe to prevent community transmission that impacts the frontline healthcare staff needed to provide the critical care needed to help save lives.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons provided a COVID-19 update for the public online on Tuesday, where she discussed current numbers, statistics and the surge of cases.
“We are now contending with unprecedented increases in the number of people who are severely ill with this infection,” she said.
She reminded viewers that the county hasn’t even seen the effect of Thanksgiving in hospitalizations or deaths, but the state has already matched its numbers at the worst of the summer surge, and they’re still rising quickly.
Cases in Santa Barbara County are well above the purple tier threshold, according to Dr. FItzgibbons, and anticipated strains on hospital beds and staffing are what she calls a “considerable concern locally.”
A chart showing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county showed a significant spike in the last two weeks of November, reaching a record high.
“This is perhaps the chart that worries me the most and has led to some recent sleepless nights,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “Our hospitals and systems are excellent throughout Santa Barbara County.
“But I worry about both how quickly the numbers have risen, but also the likely large number of patients who will be diagnosed in this coming week and will eventually need to come into the hospital next week or the week after.”
The average stay for COVID-19 positive individuals is four to five days, and longer for the ICU. If necessary, patients are typically hospitalized a week after their symptoms show up and likely two weeks after exposure.
The deaths typically occur at least a week into their hospital stay.
Between these time frames and the time it takes for individuals to wait for their test results, accurate data reflecting the status of COVID-19 often doesn’t come out until weeks after. Next week will likely show much higher numbers.
“The signals are really there this time. The curve has indeed changed and indeed exploded,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “I fear that filling many of our state’s ICUs is no longer a hypothetical or a model prediction, but rather, is increasingly likely.
“The impact of this surge on our local hospitalizations and deaths has begun, and will worsen.”