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December 17, 2020 -- COVID patients are filling so many beds in California intensive care units that health officials are opening field hospitals to handle an expected overflow of non-ICU patients.

Deadline reported that in Orange County alone, a 50-bed field hospital will be built at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, a 25-bed field hospital at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and a 50-bed field hospital at the University of California-Irvine.

The field hospitals will be housed in large trailers and canvas tents with hard flooring and temperature controls. They’ll have running water, toilets, showers, generators, and air purifiers.

“The ICU is at 105% capacity,” Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee said of St. Jude. “They’re using every available bed. The emergency department has an overflow…All the Orange County hospitals are in the same situation. It is dire, so they’ll soon be erecting a tent in the parking lot, probably for triage. I think what we’re seeing is not a surge, but a tsunami.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that “alternative care” facilities have also been set up at Imperial Valley College (30 beds) and Sleep Train Arena (20 beds with more available) in Sacramento.

The situation is so dire, Newsom said, that the state just bought 5,000 extra body bags. Mobile morgues are on standby, and the state is asking retired medical personnel to help out at health care facilities.

The state Department of Public Health said available ICU capacity is scarce in much of the state. On Tuesday, the agency said Southern California had 1.7% available capacity, San Joaquin Valley 1.6%, the Greater Sacramento region 14.9%, the Bay Area 15.8% and Northern California 29.8%.

Under a recent state order, the regions must go into lockdown for three weeks when available ICU capacity drops below 15%.

“We’ve seen a lot of surge tents that have gone up at hospitals around the region,” University of California-Irvine spokesman John Murray said. “That’s usually to handle overflow for things like emergency departments, patients who are waiting … This is really something a little bit different.”

The coronavirus is setting new records daily across the Golden State, and government officials are struggling to contain it.

The state has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. On Monday, the state Department of Public Health said there 32,326 new confirmed cases. The 7-day testing positivity rate was 11.1% and the 14-day positivity rate was 10.6%.
The Fresno County interim public health officer, Rais Vohra, MD, told the Los Angeles Times he expected “a grim set of weeks before and after the new year, just given the trends that we’re seeing…. Unfortunately, we’ve just got a lot of infections and a lot of ongoing transmissions [and] we’re still very, very hard pressed to try to meet that challenge.”

The LA Times reported that the field hospitals will handle non-ICU patients in places such as Costa Mesa, Porterville, Sacramento, and Imperial, with field hospitals on standby status in Riverside, Richmond, Fresno, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Show Sources

Deadline: Covid-19 Update: “I’ve Never Been So Afraid Of Christmas,” Says Health Official As California Rolls Out Mobile Field Hospitals, Contemplates Rationing Care

CDPH. “State Officials Announce Latest COVID-19 Facts”

LA Times. "Facing a ‘a grim set of weeks,’ California opens COVID field hospitals across the state"

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