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The fatal COVID-19 wave hitting Greater Los Angeles has kept hospitals overwhelmed, intensive care units full, and caused some morgues to run out of space, unable to handle more bodies.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the situation is so dire that the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency (EMS Agency) issued memos on Monday “directing ambulance staff not to transfer to hospitals most patients who have virtually no chance of survival.”
“Patients who are not to be transported to hospitals include those whose hearts have stopped and despite efforts at resuscitation, have no signs of breathing, movement, a pulse or blood pressure and would be declared dead at the scene. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians are to continue to try to resuscitate in the field until a pulse can be restored, after which a patient could be stabilized and transported to a hospital,” the Times reported.
Dr. Jeffrey Smith, chief operating officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A., told CNN that the order from the county “is very specific to patients who suffered from a cardiac arrest and are unable to be revived in the field.”
“Those patients have a very low rate of survival even if they are transported to the hospital,” he said. “At this time, it is deemed to likely be futile.”
Public health officials serving America’s most populated county, where more than 10 million people reside, expect the demand for hospital care to increase in the coming weeks.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the L.A. County director of health services, said at a Monday briefing that many area hospitals are already “having to make very tough decisions about patient care.”
“The volume being seen in our hospitals still represents the cases that resulted from the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said. “We do not believe that we are yet seeing the cases that stemmed from the Christmas holiday. This, sadly, and the cases from the recent New Year’s holiday, is still before us, and hospitals across the region are doing everything they can to prepare.”
Elected officials said last week that the county would begin temporarily storing bodies at the coroner’s office because many hospital morgues had reached capacity, while funeral homes and mortuaries remain backlogged.
The increase of COVID-19 patients has also strained oxygen-delivery systems at several area hospitals and created a shortage of portable oxygen tanks.
EMS Agency issued another directive on Monday that instructed ambulance crews to “only administer supplemental oxygen to patients with oxygen saturation below 90%.”
Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom’s office announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be deployed to six L.A. area hospitals to update the existing infrastructure.