ICU capacity plummets amid COVID-19 surge


SAN DIEGO – As Los Angeles quickly runs out of ICU capacity, hospitals in San Diego County may not be far behind.

The state is reporting 0% ICU bed availability for the entire Southern California region. That includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

On Friday, San Diego County health officials reported an additional 46 hospitalizations, raising the total number of San Diegans hospitalized with coronavirus to a record-high of 1,218. That includes 305 local COVID-19 patients who are being treated in ICUs, the highest number since the pandemic began.

“The way we are heading is unsustainable,” said Vaishal Tolia, medical director of the emergency department at UC San Diego Health. “The community needs to understand we are at a limited supply for the entire region.”

San Diego County has seen a 220% increase in hospitalizations over the last 30 days, and a 155% increase in ICU patients over that same time period, according to county health officials. A spokesperson for Sharp hospitals said their ICUs are at 90% capacity. Scripps hospitals aren’t far behind, at 86% full.

Broken down by individual Scripps locations, Scripps Green is at 67%, Mercy at 74%, Chula Vista at 83%, La Jolla at 95% and Scripps Memorial in Encinitas is at 125%. They are using flex beds to care for some ICU patients in Encinitas.

“The capacity grows all the time, and so we’ve expanded to meet that,” Dr. Scott Eisman, who works in the ICU at Scripps Encinitas, said.

Data from public health leaders shows county hospitals have 16% of their ICU beds available, unchanged since Tuesday, which is at odds with the state estimate that the Southern California region’s ICU beds are entirely full.

In the San Joaquin Valley, ICU beds are said to also be full. In Greater Sacramento, the estimate is 14.5% of ICU beds available; in the Bay Area, it’s 12.8%.

Only Northern California remains outside the Gov. Gavin Newsom-directed stay-at-home order with 21% of ICU beds available. The stay-at-home order applies to regions with fewer than 15% ICU beds remaining.

Like many front-line workers, Tolia and Eisman got their coronavirus vaccines this week. Both said they had slight soreness in their arm. When it comes time for San Diegans to decide whether to get vaccinated, Eisman offered his advice.

“It’s important to ask yourself, ‘What are the side effects of getting COVID? And how much more protected are you with this vaccine?'” he said. “I can tell you, as a guy who has seen patients directly with COVID, and who has seen some terrible stuff, for me — I’m incredibly grateful to have this.”

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