California hospitals stretched thin as 52,000 coronavirus cases reported in single day

<p>A health worker passes a medical tent outside the emergency room at UCI Medical Center in Irvine, California on 17 December.</p>

Nearly 16,000 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalised in California, which reported more than 250,000 new infections this week alone.

The state reported 52,000 confirmed cases on Thursday, roughly the same amount of cases that the entire US averaged two months ago.

In Los Angeles County alone, home to more than 10 million people, one in 80 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 this week, according to health officials.

The availability of intensive care unit beds has also dropped to dangerous levels this week – as low as 1 per cent in Ventura County and 0 per cent in Riverside County, the state’s health department reported this week.

“We’re experiencing an explosive and very deadly surge,” state public health director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday. “These are extraordinary, extraordinary numbers and they represent transmission that continues to be out of control.”

Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state ordered an additional 5,000 body bags to prepare for a spike in deaths to follow the rising hospitalisations. The state reported a single-day high of 379 deaths on Thursday. More than 21,860 people have died in the state since the onset of the outbreak 10 months ago. More than 1.7 million cases have been confirmed.

The severity of outbreaks and impacts across the state – which has a population of nearly 40 million people – has varied by region. According to the Los Angeles Times, southern California has reported 711 new cases per 100,000 people within the last week, more than double the scale of infection in the Bay Area.

The newspaper reported that hospitalisations in several southern California counties have doubled since Thanksgiving, while Orange County officials have constructed field hospitals for overflow patients and infections in the county’s jails have risen to more than 400 within a single week.

More than 310,000 Americans have died from coronavirus-related illness, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 17 million infections have been confirmed since the onset of the public health crisis.

Average daily new cases have remained above 200,000 within the year’s final days, soaring above case rates in the pandemic’s early surge.

On 16 December, the US reported its highest single-day death toll, with the loss of 3,400 lives.

While the US prepares the first shipments of vaccine doses to health workers, the final weeks of 2020 have also seen some of the highest numbers of confirmed infection and deaths at long-term care centres like nursing homes since The COVID Tracking project began reporting long-term care data in May.

More than 5,000 people in long-term care died within the second week of December, a 26 per cent increase from the previous week, the group reported.

“The vaccine offers the promise of an eventual end to the wrenching losses we’ve seen in nursing homes and other [facilities],” the group reported. “But complete immunisation for every vulnerable resident and staff member may take months to achieve. In the time between initial vaccinations and growing outbreaks, we are all but certain to see tens of thousands more Americans die of Covid-19 in [long-term care centres].”

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