Coronavirus infection rates are exploding in California – and it feels like we are failing the very people who make it their business to try and save us when we are sick or hurt or dying.
In one day, nearly 40,000 new infections were reported this week, even as 98% of the state is under a state at home order, according to state public health data.
Clearly that is not what people are doing.
Nearly 19,000 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized in California with 3,861 of those in intensive care units. As of Tuesday, the state has reported over 1.9 million coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Southern California is one of the worst hot spots in the country. The ICU bed capacity is at zero.
That includes Los Angeles County, the most populated county in America. The dire situation has created a hellscape for health care workers, especially those in emergency rooms and Covid-19 units.
A ‘never-ending struggle’
Blake and others at Harbor UCLA Medical Center said the beds are filled in the Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit, and the overflow patients are cared for in the Emergency Room Department, which is also filled to the brim.
Only one bed is kept open, for when the ambulance arrives, which it always does.
“There is really like a never-ending struggle,” said Cliff Resurreccion, a nurse working in the emergency room to help patients do the simplest of things: to breathe.
Before his shift Monday, Resurreccion said he learned one of the patients he’d been working with a day earlier had died.
“It’s pretty tough right now. Unfortunately he had no family to be able to come and see him and it was very sad around the holiday season for everyone involved.”
The heartbreaking deaths happen too often, marked by the wailing of stricken family members in the waiting room.
The nurses and doctors say they are emotionally drained and exhausted. But there is no respite as more patients arrive daily.
Chief Operating Nurse Blake said the emergency room is also treating the usual complement of patients showing up with other serious injuries, such as heart attacks, strokes and broken bones suffered in car accidents.
As a result, the department is struggling to find space to care for patients.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. I’ve been here 40 years,” Blake said. “Some of the things these nurses are seeing: Their patients are dying. There are no family members. So they’re holding that patient’s hand or they’re on the other side of an iPad where the family’s crying.”
She said it’s impossible to forget the fear in the eyes of patients as they struggle to breathe. Blake is sure the staff will be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
At the height of the summer surge, the hospital treated about 60 Covid-19 patients at any given time, Blake said. Now the number hovers around 100 patients, and it can’t transfer them to other LA hospitals because they also are at capacity.
Outside the Medical Center, two refrigerated trailers store the bodies.
“I hope I won’t cry because it’s been 10 months of this. We are inundated. And the difference now from March and April is everybody was staying home,” Blake said. “At the very beginning people were saying, nurses are heroes and great job – and now they’re not listening to us. They’re not wearing their masks. They’re saying it’s a hoax.”
There was a glimmer of hope on the hospital campus this week, as a long line of health care workers waited to get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Cheerful music played in the background.
But Blake sees the reality right now, which is a skyrocketing infection rate and the uninterrupted flow of new patients struggling with the virus.
“I am a glass half full kind of person. My glass is empty right now.”
CNN’s Jack Hannah and Kevin Flower contributed to this report