Corona crisis in California: no chance for hospitals

The number of infections in the US state of California is taking on dramatic proportions: Emergency services are no longer supposed to bring people with a low chance of survival in the greater Los Angeles area to clinics.

By Marcus Schuler, ARD Studio Los Angeles

The number of infections in the most populous US state of California is taking on dramatic proportions. They are particularly high in the greater Los Angeles area, in the south of the state, where more than 13 million people live. For example, emergency services should no longer bring people with low chances of survival to hospitals.

The situation has worsened for Los Angeles health director Barbara Ferrer. In a video press conference, she soberly states that a person in the region is now dying every 15 minutes as a result of a corona infection. If the numbers continue to rise, Ferrer fears more than 1,000 deaths a week soon.

“Everyone should keep in mind that the transmission rates are currently so high that just leaving the house runs the risk of accidentally becoming infected.”

The consequences of the holidays

The health authorities attribute the latest wave of infections to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Millions of people did not adhere to the guidelines and, despite warnings, met with families and friends in larger groups – despite exit restrictions from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Department stores and supermarkets are now increasingly being identified as sources of infection. In the Los Angeles district alone, more than 1,300 people have died as a result of a corona infection since December 30, according to authorities. Every fifth Covid test now comes back positive. The infections have doubled in just over a month.

Refrigerated trucks help with the removal of the bodies

The hospitals have been overloaded for days, there are no more intensive care beds. Refrigerated trucks drove up in front of the city’s largest clinics to store the deceased because the crematoria are overloaded. The National Guard helps with the evacuation. Ambulance crews have been instructed not to take patients with low chance of survival to hospitals and instead let them die at home.

Nancy Blake, senior nurse at Los Angeles University Hospital, tearfully says on television that seeing the dying is disastrous for the nurses. “The patients are extremely sick. It is a terrible disease. It has been going on for ten months and we are being overrun.”

Some patients also lie in churches and sports halls that are part of the hospital complexes. The emergency room of the university hospital has been converted into an intensive care unit. Oxygen bottles with which patients are ventilated are also in short supply.

Head nurse Blake can’t hide her anger from the TV reporter: “At the beginning of the crisis people said that we carers and nurses are heroes. Now nobody listens to us.” Nobody wears a mask here, some people said Corona was a “hoax”, a lie that was circulated as a joke.

Enough vaccination doses, but no vaccination centers

The only bright spot are the vaccination doses: The Los Angeles district has received more than 370,000 in recent weeks. The vaccinations are apparently progressing more slowly than planned. There are no special vaccination centers like the ones that have been set up in Germany over the past few weeks. The central government relies completely on the private sector – in other words: hospitals and pharmacies should take over the vaccination. State and district administrations only have a say in which groups of people need to be vaccinated first. Above all, the residents of retirement homes and caregivers have priority.

Trusting the forces of the market in a pandemic has disadvantages: The cold chain cannot always be maintained. On Monday, a hospital in northern California called for a quick trip to the local hospital because 800 doses had to be inoculated – the refrigerator had failed.

There is little sign of planning. At least health director Barbara Ferrer has praise for the nursing staff, whose vaccination readiness is very high. However, Ferrer and her colleagues fear that the situation will only relax in four to six weeks – when more vaccine is available and more people adhere to the guidelines.

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