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COVID surge: South Bay hospitals swamped as ICU capacity drops

Bay Area

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — South Bay hospitals are operating in surge mode as emergency rooms are swamped with new patients.

The full impact of post-holiday infection is yet to be seen as hospital capacity in Santa Clara County hovers around 8%.

Currently, the number of ICU beds available is down to around two dozen for a county with almost two million people. Health officials are warning the surge is going to get worse before it gets better.

“The staff is fatigued, they are tired, they are drained physically, emotionally and every\ way you can physically imagine,” Valley Medical Center E.R. Dr. Jeffrey Chien said.

Dr. Chien pulled no punches in describing the grim picture in emergency rooms across the South Bay as hospitals struggle to cope with the spread of COVID-19 as ambulances arrive daily with new patients.

“COVID is no joke, folks are struggling to breath,” Dr. Chien said. “Folks are gasping for breath, folks look like they are drowning while they are sitting there in bed in front of us.”

The number of patients arriving by ambulance is up over 11%. EMS crews are waiting outside emergency rooms for up to two hours because there are not enough beds immediately available as residents are being asked to think twice before calling 911.

“If you are going to be utilizing 911, we just ask that you think about it and say ‘OK, is this truly necessary or is there another avenue where I could seek care?'” EMS Duty Chief Daniel Franklin said.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the county has gone from 100 in early November to more than 700 right now, putting a strain on all hospital resources, says VMC’s Dr. Ahmad Kamal.

“As of right now, staff are being pulled from other areas of the hospital to provide care to critically ill patients,” Dr. Kamal said. “This means that other patients, who also have needs, are having to go without.”

The impact of the Christmas and New Year holiday is still to come with more than 700 people already in the hospital sick with COVID-19. 

Surge plans are in full swing amid ICU bed capacity consistently below 10% with new cases and hospitalizations ten times higher than they were in November.

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