State’s hospital systems urge safety in advance of potential holiday case surge

A hospital employee enters Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland on August 24, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Hospital leaders, physicians and frontline workers on Tuesday urged Californians to take basic precautions and stay home during the holidays to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and warned that hospitals in the state are reaching or exceeding capacity and that staff exhaustion is also a concern.

California registered 32,659 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of positive cases to nearly 2 million. The surge in cases is putting hospitals under pressure. Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged in a Monday briefing that some models predict 99,000 virus-related hospitalizations by mid-January.

California hospital leaders presented a similarly bleak picture at a news conference Tuesday. Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO Greg Adams said Kaiser’s hospitals are at over 100 percent capacity, and 52 percent are patients diagnosed with COVID. Additionally, 16 of Kaiser’s 36 hospitals are above 100 percent occupancy in their intensive care units.

Hospital leaders said staff exhaustion is their biggest concern going into the holidays. Clinicians are having to carry larger workloads as hospitalizations increase, and the around-the-clock work is taking a toll on providers’ mental health.

Kaiser Permanente’s medical office campus in Lancaster, California. (Photo via Daysi Janssen/Flickr)

“We are seeing unprecedented numbers of patients with very severe illnesses moving from our intensive care units out into the regular floors, requiring nurses and physicians that don’t normally provide care to these very critically ill patients stretch to the tops of their license,” said Vanessa Walker, Valley Area eICU Medical Director at Sutter Health.

When making plans for the holidays, hospital leaders encouraged Californians to think about what holidays will look like in 2021 if people make sacrifices today.

“I know it’s been a long road for everybody, it’s been nine months, we’re tired of doing this, but this is the time we need to be most conscious,” said Thomas McGinn, an executive at Dignity Health. “If you want to celebrate next year with your family and your friends and your loved ones, now is the time to be disciplined.”

“Do not share the air,” McGinn added.

And in situations where it is not possible to avoid in-person interactions, Stephen Parodi, associate executive director at The Permanente Medical Group, advised people to take precautions like covering their nose and mouth, meeting outside and keeping interactions short.

Parodi also said that it is not too late to take steps to prevent additional COVID-19 cases over the holidays.

“I want to be clear on that — it is not too late,” he said. “We can all collectively make these plans.”

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