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San Diego County reports record number of new COVID-19 cases

Vivianna Hernandez monitors a COVID-19 test at Cal State San Marcos, one of the busiest testing centers in San Diego County
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County health officials on Friday reported 1,091 new coronavirus cases, a single-day record, with county hospitals hitting 76% of total capacity.

The surge puts hospitals near the 80% level that could require reductions in the number of elective procedures they can perform, according to Friday’s report. County officials have said that 20% of capacity should be preserved to provide a buffer for treating any sudden surge in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, plans to meet with hospital representatives on Monday to “discuss the potential for additional action,” according to a county spokesperson.

In addition, 73% of the county’s intensive care beds were filled, according to the report.

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Some hospitals are already nearing capacity. At Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, 90% of staffed beds are now occupied, about half of those by COVID-19 patients, officials said. Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista reported an 83% occupancy rate in its ICU, with nine of 20 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Andres Smith, emergency director at Sharp Chula Vista, said his team had readied an overflow tent in the hospital’s parking lot on Wednesday.

“We didn’t end up needing to use it that night, but it came close,” Smith said.

Dr. Kristi Koenig, medical director of the San Diego County Emergency Medical System, said Friday evening that she has also started to see signs of additional stress on local emergency rooms.

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“I am definitely concerned with what we see right now, because we know that, with the increases in cases we have seen, it is only a matter of time before we see that translate to more hospital impact,” Koenig said.

Her office, she said, keeps a close eye on the equipment and materials, staff and facilities needed to treat a surge of patients. At the moment, she said, staffing is the biggest concern.

“Some people are sick, and some people are just burnt out and exhausted,” she said, noting that surging hospital admissions across the nation have also drawn experts to the East Coast who might otherwise be available in the local workforce.

Occupancy has a very real effect not only on those patients with COVID-19 but on those who have severe illnesses unrelated to the coronavirus, officials said.

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In the spring, Wooten ordered all local hospitals to reduce non-emergency care as much as possible to make sure there was enough capacity to treat an expected wave of hospital admissions.


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