As county and state officials announced renewed stay-at-home-orders this week amid record new coronavirus cases, Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center grappled with a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations that showed little signs of diminishing.
Dr. Mariam Torossian, a pulmonary disease specialist at the Burbank hospital, said its officials observed the surge begin about three weeks ago and accelerate since then — and she worries that the situation isn’t getting better.
“I think what’s frightening is that this is not reflective of what we’re going to see as a consequence of the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said, referencing a period during which, experts fear, many people held private gatherings with members of other households. “The worst is yet to come.”
However, Providence officials also urged Burbank residents not to delay visiting the hospital if they experience a medical emergency. At Providence, COVID-19 patients are treated in a separate unit.
A countywide safer-at-home order was implemented on Monday, just days after in-person dining was temporarily banned and other businesses had their capacity limits further reduced by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The new order prohibits all public and private gatherings with people of another household, except for faith-based services and protests.
The county order also limits essential retail to 35% maximum occupancy and nonessential retail — such as indoor malls — to 20% maximum occupancy. Playgrounds, except for those at child care and schools, and card rooms were ordered closed.
Personal care services such as nail and hair salons were permitted by the county, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated on Thursday that the state too would soon close across the state. He announced that a statewide stay-at-home order would be implemented in regions whose ICU capacities dropped to 15% or less, projecting that most of the state, including the Southern California region, would reach that point within about a week.
Once in effect, the state order requires bars, wineries and personal care services to close for a minimum of three weeks, while retail stores are limited to 20% capacity. The order can be lifted for the region only after those three weeks, and only if its ICU capacity has risen above 15%.
Newsom also pleaded with the public to refrain from gathering with people outside of their household.
“This is the final surge,” he said. “We have a light at the end of the tunnel with these vaccines [expected to be available relatively soon], but we need to take seriously this moment. This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of the pandemic. This is the time, if there was ever any doubt, to put aside your cynicism, to put aside your ideology, to put aside any consideration except this. Lives are in the balance. Lives will be lost unless we do more than we’ve ever done.”
The governor also reported on Thursday that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 had increased by 86% in two weeks, and that 1,000 California residents had died in that same time frame.
Also on Thursday, L.A. County health officials said that there were 2,572 people hospitalized with the virus, an all-time high, while the number of new cases in one day, 7,854, had also broken the county’s record. In total, there had been 421,881 cases of COVID-19 and 7,782 deaths in the county.
There were a reported 2,880 people in Burbank who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the same data, as the seven-day average of new cases reached a city record of 45.8 new cases per day. There had also been 95 deaths in the city due to COVID-19, at least 18 of them connected with current outbreaks at local nursing facilities.
“I definitely have a compassion for the public and what everyone is going through,” Torossian said, “I will say, as a pulmonary critical care physician, I see the sickest of the sick. I can understand why people who don’t have experience with this, either they themselves haven’t fallen ill or had a family member sick, develop that mental anguish of losing a livelihood or not be able to share the holidays with friends.”
But, she added, “People are dying. Even if it’s a small percentage and hasn’t affected one personally, lives lost are something we can never get back.”
— Staff writer Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.