Hospital officials in Glendale are urging residents to commit to behavior that will significantly reduce their potential exposure to the coronavirus, as the explosive surge in COVID-19 cases that began in late November continues to push medical facilities to the brink.
Southern California has been at 0% availability for intensive care unit beds since late December, according to county Department of Public Health officials. The raging surge in daily new coronavirus cases continues to set records nearly every day as medical centers scramble to add personnel as they’ve reportedly turned away ambulances and others seeking emergency care.
Meanwhile, the county’s hospitals are in the midst of providing their healthcare workers the second rounds of the coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer — and eventually Moderna.
Officials are blaming the onset and continuance of the surge on gatherings among people starting with the Thanksgiving holiday and running through the various December holidays. The county announced more than 19,000 new cases on Thursday afternoon.
“We still are continuing to see the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday,” Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas said Thursday. “Sadly, I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the effects of Christmas or the New Year yet.”
Adventist Health Glendale reported this week its ICU was “well over 100% capacity,” even after expanding its size.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to nearly triple our ICU capacity to meet the demand, but like all hospitals in Southern California, we’re reaching our limits,” Adventist President Alice Issai wrote in a statement. “Our emergency room is available for the community, but the wait times are growing steadily. Our teams are tired, but they have demonstrated commitment and resilience, and we’re doing all we can to continue to support these heroes.”
Unlike at other hospitals throughout the metro area, Lanzas said his department’s ambulances have not been turned away from Glendale’s medical centers.
“We have not seen the major stacked ambulance situation that you’ve seen at some of the downtown [Los Angeles] hospitals and throughout L.A. city,” he added.
Lanzas added that the department normally averages around 55 calls per day, but in the past seven days that has jumped to 70 daily responses.
As of the News-Press’ deadline on Friday, there have been 12,628 documented cases of COVID-19 among Glendale residents. Of those, 1,145 have been tabulated just since Jan. 1; the case total is nearly double from the 6,385 reported on Dec. 1. The city has had at least 305 residents — including those in its numerous skilled nursing facilities — die from the disease.
For additional context, from the start of the pandemic in March through Nov. 1, Glendale had amassed a cumulative case count of 4,692.
“We continue to see a daily death rate through L.A. County of over 200 every day,” Lanzas said. “It’s mind boggling.”
Unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose has had at least 687 residents test positive for COVID-19, with five deaths reported. In the past 14 days, the area has had a reported 144 new cases.
USC Verdugo Hills Hospital has hired additional non-nursing staff to assist in nursing units, such as runners who can get supplies. The hospital has been able to secure a good amount of personal protective equipment and oxygen tanks, which have been running low in some hospitals throughout Los Angeles.
“Staff is tired,” said USC-VHH CEO Keith Hobbs in an interview. “Fatigue has set in. There was concern the community didn’t adhere to some of the guidelines around Thanksgiving as far as physical distancing and not getting together with folks outside of your immediate family. As a result of that, we’re seeing a dramatic spike.”
The local hospital is currently in Phase 6 of eight of its surge plan, the highest it has ever been since the pandemic began last spring. USC-VHH has transformed areas in the hospital into units in an effort to take care of the growing number of patients with coronavirus.
The emergency department at USC-VHH and its counterparts at most hospitals in Southern California have been on diversion, telling ambulance companies that they are saturated. However, ambulances still arrive and patients are still given care, according to Hobbs.
“We haven’t had to turn anybody away,” he said. “But during the spike situation, there have been slight delays where they’ve had to manage the patient in the ambulance for a brief period of time until a spot opens up in the emergency department.”
Glendale Memorial Hospital also is being stressed to a critical level.
“At this time, Glendale Memorial Hospital has limited ICU capacity,” Dr. William Wang, the chief medical officer, said in a statement. “Our emergency department continues to triage and treat all patients, and when necessary, admit them to the hospital.”
Glendale Memorial has administered all first-round vaccinations to participating staff and physicians, Wang added, and has started giving the second doses this week. Adventist and USC-VHH also reported that they’re on the second round of vaccinations to staff members.
Lanzas said around 70% of GFD personnel have accepted their first round vaccinations, “about average the fire service,” and that those firefighters and paramedics would get their second shots after 28 days.
“Until the vaccines are available to the broader community,” Issai, from Adventist, said, “we — all of us — really need to do all we can to keep the surges we’re seeing from becoming overwhelming and the best course of action is to mask, wash your hands, socially distance and remain with those in your own household.”
The fire chief said that the collaborative task force among the three hospitals, Glendale Unified School District, Glendale Community College and his department has “truly paid off” and has helped to maintain service availability in spite of the increasingly dire situation.
“There have been no surprises” among us, Lanzas added. “It’s a great example of collaborating with multiple entities for the betterment of our community.”
— Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.