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Facing ‘a grim set of weeks,’ California opens COVID field hospitals across the state

A view of the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, an alternate field hospital site that has 180 beds.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California is opening temporary field hospitals to help with overflow patients as COVID-19 surges fill intensive care units across the state.

The field hospitals will care for non-ICU patients in places such as Costa Mesa, Porterville, Sacramento and Imperial; other facilities are on standby status in Riverside, Richmond, Fresno, San Diego and San Francisco.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health said available ICU capacity in Southern California was just 1.7%, down from 2.7% a day earlier. The situation was particularly grim in Riverside County, which was at zero available ICU capacity as of Tuesday. Available ICU capacity in the San Joaquin Valley was also effectively maxed out and has been fluctuating between zero and 1.6% since Saturday.

Medical authorities across the state expect the situation to worsen before it gets better, as more people infected during the Thanksgiving holiday fall ill. The hope is that the state stay-at-home order will eventually turn the tide, but it’s expected it will take until Christmas or New Year’s before the inexorable rise in daily coronavirus cases flattens or begins to decrease.

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Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim public health officer, said Tuesday that he expected “a grim set of weeks before and after the new year, just given the trends that we’re seeing…. Unfortunately, we’ve just got a lot of infections and a lot of ongoing transmissions [and] we’re still very, very hard pressed to try to meet that challenge.”

Fresno County has nearly 1 million people, but there were only 16 available ICU beds Monday. A couple of that region’s larger hospitals have zero available ICU beds, and one has been forced to keep five ICU patients in the emergency department.

Vohra said the staffing shortages in Fresno County already feel similar to what New York City faced in the spring. He said it’s entirely plausible that Fresno County will need to utilize more alternative care sites and tents if “we’re running out of spaces in the hospital to put people and we just need to make space.”

Besides an alternative care site in Porterville that opened Monday, another staffed 50-bed care site is being opened this week next to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. That site can take patients from in-patient wards, freeing up space in the step-down units where critically ill patients recover, which in turn frees up space in the ICU.

One of the alternative sites is the Fairview Developmental Center in Orange County. That facility, which has a total capacity of 180 beds, has 10 beds considered active, with eight patients being treated there.

Last week, a site was opened at Sleep Train Arena, the former home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. That care site, which has 20 beds available and a capacity of up to 244 beds, is currently treating seven patients. An additional 23 patients have filled available beds at Imperial Valley College, which has space for an additional 100 beds. The state also has a site for patients from the California Department of State Hospitals, which has 43 of 46 available beds filled to treat patients.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California health and human services secretary, said two weeks ago that California was averaging around 15,000 cases a day, a number that has since more than doubled.

“That should tell you that in the next couple of weeks what our hospitals will be facing, the amount of people knocking on the front door with COVID to the emergency room departments that need an in-patient hospital bed, that might need that ICU bed, are going to increase,” Ghaly said.


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