Here’s what the ICU ward looks like with 0% availability

Registered nurse Ashley Cohagen works inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit.
Registered nurse Ashley Cohagen works inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The availability of intensive care unit beds throughout Southern California hit 0% last week, and officials warned that conditions in hospitals were expected to erode further if the coronavirus continued to spread unchecked.

An ICU, or intensive care unit, is a specialized hospital department that cares for people in the most critical health situations, such as those with life-threatening injuries or severe illnesses. ICUs are equipped with specialized equipment, such as ventilators.

Most important, ICUs are staffed with highly trained nurses and physicians who provide round-the-clock care to their patients — checking their breathing, blood pressure, fluids and other vital signs. Dr. Shruti Gohil, an infectious disease specialist at UCI Health, said there was a 1-to-1 ratio of nurses to patients in ICUs.

Here are images from area hospitals where healthcare workers are laboring, treating a flood of COVID-19 patients.

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Public health officials are anxiously tracking the capacity of intensive care units as coronavirus case numbers surge. Why is that metric important?

A hospital gurney streaks by, pushed by men wearing masks.
Emergency room staff rush a trauma patient to the exam area in Moreno Valley.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A patient lies face down on a hospital bed. A nurse in protective gear works nearby.
Registered nurse Michelle Goldson works with a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital on Dec. 17. The writing on the window lists the times the patient was in the prone and supine positions.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)
A woman in a mask helps another woman to put on protective headgear.
A nurse gets help putting on her personal protective equipment before heading into a negative pressure room at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Leroy Pascal, in protect headgear, gestures to respiratory therapists helping a COVID-19 patient.
Emergency department medical director Dr. Leroy Pascal, in white mask, and respiratory therapists scramble to attend to a COVID-19 patient at Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Hospital staff in protective masks, gowns and face shields work on a person lying on a hospital bed.
Pulmonologist Dr. Laren Tan, center, and his team of nurses and respiratory therapists intubate a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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A nurse helps a doctor, tying up his medical gown. Other nurses work with a patient on a bed.
ER nurse Jennifer Caspary helps Dr. Leroy Pascal with his protective gear on Dec. 17 at Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Hospital staff in protective gear move a gurney through the ER.
A patient is rushed to ICU to be intubated and placed on a ventilator at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Michelle Goldson, RN works inside the ICU at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital during the latest surge.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

A man, connected to various monitors, leans back on pillows in a hospital bed. A nurse stands nearby.
A nurse checks on COVID-19 patient Jose Mariscal, 66, in the ICU at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, Calif.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Victorville, CA - December 17:
Jennifer Caspary, ER incharge-nurse left, and Dr. Leroy Pascal, emergency department medical director, attend to a COVID-19 patient at Desert Valley Hospital.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Hospital staff in protective gear move a gurney and monitors.
A patient is rushed to be placed on a ventilator at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A closeup of a nurse in a respirator mask.
Michelle Goldson, RN, in the ICU at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A nurse checks a monitor next to a patient who has an oxygen tube.
Nurse Jeanette Pimentel checks on Pedro Luera, 68, who was airlifted from El Centro, Calif., to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A nurse wearing a respirator mask stands with arms full of supplies.
Registered nurse Michelle Goldson gathers supplies before heading into the ICU at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)