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Today’s Headlines: What 0% ICU availability means

A COVID-19 patient lies face down on a hospital bed as a nurse works in the corner of the room, seen through a glass window
Registered nurse Michelle Goldson works with a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in L.A. on Thursday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A surge in COVID-19 patients is stretching Southern California hospitals — and it’s going to get worse, officials warn.

TOP STORIES

What 0% ICU Availability Means

The availability of beds in intensive care units throughout Southern California hit 0% Thursday, and officials say conditions in hospitals are expected to erode further if the coronavirus continues to spread unchecked.

With ICUs filled, hospitals will step up measures to ensure the sickest patients still get the highest levels of care possible. That often means moving some patients who would typically be in the ICU to other areas of the hospital, such as a recovery area, or keeping them in the emergency room for longer than normal.

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The patients are still getting intensive care, and that strategy can work to a point. But eventually, there may be too many critically ill patients for the limited numbers of ICU doctors and nurses available, leading to greater chances of patients not getting the specialized care they need. And that can lead to increases in mortality.

Once ICU beds are full, hospitals go into surge mode, which can accommodate 20% over usual capacity. Officials have also been training medical personnel who work elsewhere in hospitals to allow them to work in ICUs, and seeking nurses from outside the United States.

But the forecast size of the surge of severely ill COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization in the coming weeks has blown past projections issued just a few weeks ago. Here’s more about how ICU capacity is determined.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— The Macias family has seven reasons to be furious that you will not wear a mask, that you went to Thanksgiving dinner for 20 without a second thought, that you dismiss the coronavirus as not much worse than the flu. Seven COVID-19 patientswith four hospitalizations and two funerals between them — in one family.

— An FDA advisory panel endorsed a second COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for the shot from Moderna and the National Institutes of Health to be added to the U.S. vaccination campaign.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence are set to receive the COVID-19 vaccine soon. Biden will reportedly receive the vaccine publicly as soon as next week, while the White House says Pence and his wife, Karen, will receive the vaccine publicly today.

Sewage data analyzed in Silicon Valley wastewater treatment plants confirms that the latest wave of coronavirus infections is sharply worse than the ones in the spring and summer.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

More ‘Firsts’ in Biden’s Team

Biden is continuing to make history in building a Cabinet.

On Thursday, he picked an experienced but not widely known state regulator, Michael Regan of North Carolina, to be the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He will also nominate Rep. Deb Haaland, the freshman House member from New Mexico, to lead the Interior Department — the first Native American to oversee the agency. As with other Cabinet picks, they are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Though California is likely to have a large role in shaping the next administration, Mary Nichols went from being a top contender to lead the EPA to a hard no. Through four governors, two Obama terms and the Trump administration, she has led the charge to clean up California’s smog and fight climate change. So, what happened?

More Politics

— The federal government’s top cybersecurity agency issued its most urgent warning yet about a sophisticated and extensive computer breach, saying it posed a “grave risk” to networks maintained by governments, utilities and the private sector and could be difficult to purge. Federal law enforcement officials have said Russia was behind the attack.

— Congressional negotiators on a must-pass, almost $1-trillion COVID-19 economic relief package have been struggling through a handful of remaining snags. The holdups mean a weekend session now appears virtually certain, and a top lawmaker warned that a government shutdown this weekend can’t be ruled out.

— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he plans to remain mayor, an announcement aimed at ending speculation that he might join Biden’s administration.

What China Doesn’t Want You to See

In China, President Xi Jinping claims his government has brought mass “happiness” to the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The reality is that a vast system of surveillance, detention, cultural erasure and forced labor has devastated the Uighur people in their homeland.

On a recent weeklong trip across Xinjiang, a Times reporter and a colleague working for a German outlet visited more than a dozen prisons, detention centers, demolished mosque sites and former reeducation camps turned into high-security factories. The Times met with Uighurs — they are predominately Muslim — who spoke of their imprisonment, fear and life in the region.

And the journalists were tracked by police and, at times, manhandled.

Something in the Air

The air you breathe on airplanes comes directly from the jet engines. Known as bleed air, it is safe, unless there is a mechanical issue — a faulty seal, for instance. When that happens, heated jet engine oil can leak into the air supply, potentially releasing toxic gases into the plane.

For decades, the airline industry and its regulators have maintained that these incidents are rare and that the toxic chemical levels are too low to pose serious health risks.

But a Times investigation found that vapors from oil and other fluids seep into planes with alarming frequency across all airlines, at times creating chaos and confusion.

A Fresh Start

A new California law is allowing former inmate firefighters to plan for a new future.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, inmate firefighters accounted for 30% of those battling California’s forest fires. But until recently, it was almost impossible for them to pursue a career in firefighting after they were released.

The L.A. Times documentary short “Firefighting After Prison” takes you into the lives of two people hoping to become firefighters and give back to their communities

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On Dec. 17, 1976, an oil tanker known as the Sansinena was stationed in the Los Angeles harbor. But around 7:40 p.m., a sudden blast rocked the ship and the coastline, shattering windows more than 20 miles away. The blast was so powerful that it split the 810-foot Sansinena in half.

In the next day’s paper, The Times reported that six crewmen died and more than 50 people were injured. Another three people were never found and presumed dead. The exact cause of the explosion was never determined, though a Coast Guard report noted that a cloud of flammable gas hung over part of the ship before the blast.

Following the blast, the Los Angeles Fire Department began routine inspections of tankers to help prevent future explosions.

Flames light the sky as firemen pour water on the inferno caused by the explosion of the Sansinena
Dec. 17, 1976: Flames light up the sky as firemen pour water on the inferno caused by the explosion of the Sansinena. This image was one of three published on the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 18, 1976.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

YOUR WEEKEND

— The holidays can be overwhelming any year, let alone 2020. Here are seven ways to relieve stress and soothe anxiety.

Toast your fortitude with a bubbly cocktail at home.

— This year, our food culture was reshaped by tragedy. That’s why the Times’ 2020 edition of the 101 Best L.A. Restaurants list celebrates resilience.

— At Pismo Beach’s newest preserve, stunning views and miles of trails greet hikers.

CALIFORNIA

— Federal authorities have filed charges in two newly uncovered pandemic unemployment fraud schemes — including one by a former Employment Development Department employee they say managed to scam more than $200,000 in benefits, including by posing as Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

— Calling unauthorized photographs of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and nine others “abhorrent and inappropriate,” the husband of one of the victims has sued the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department — the second such suit. Meanwhile, Vanessa Bryant accused her mother of seeking to “extort a financial windfall” from her after Kobe’s death.

— The family of Keith Reinhold, a Black man shot dead by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy in San Clemente in an encounter captured on video, has sued the county, saying his death was a result of a homeless detail that disproportionately targets people of color and is ill-equipped to deal with mental illness.

— At 81, lawyer Tom Girardi is facing the collapse of everything he holds dear — his venerable law firm, his marriage to Erika Jayne (as seen on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”) and his reputation as a champion for the downtrodden.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Northeast’s first whopper snowstorm of the season buried parts of upstate New York under more than 3 feet of snow, broke records in cities and towns across the region, and left plow drivers struggling to clear the roads as snow piled up at a rate of more than 4 inches per hour.

— Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held unannounced talks with Taliban peace negotiators in the Persian Gulf to urge a reduction in violence across Afghanistan.

— More than 300 schoolboys abducted last week by armed men in northwestern Nigeria have been released, officials say.

— A federal grand jury has charged six men with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in what investigators say was a plot by anti-government extremists who were angry over her coronavirus policies.

— While excitement and enthusiasm greeted the U.S.-German Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine when it was rolled out, a Russian-made vaccine has received a mixed response, with reports of empty Moscow clinics.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— HBO’s “The Flight Attendant” is based on a book. But its showrunner knew they had to blow up the source material to get the finale just right.

— For years, J-L Cauvin was among a class of comedians who could bank on their Trump impersonations for regular laughs. What now?

Paul McCartney will release “McCartney III,” his latest album in a career that’s yielded dozens of LPs and even more dozens of singles since the Beatles called it quits 50 years ago. Here’s our ranking of every McCartney single.

— With a new COVID-19 stimulus deal in sight, L.A.’s desperate nightclub owners hope it’s not too little, too late.

BUSINESS

— When will L.A.'s spas reopen? Not soon enough, for those who use them as a sanctuary.

— Dozens of states have sued Google accusing it of broad antitrust violations in the online search market, escalating the antitrust battle against it just after 10 Republican state attorneys general sued it for anticompetitive practices.

SPORTS

— The NBA has opened an investigation into the Clippers days after a lawsuit filed against the team and team consultant Jerry West alleged the Hall of Fame player and longtime executive promised, but did not pay, a man $2.5 million in exchange for helping star free agent Kawhi Leonard sign with the team in 2019, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

— Former professional skateboarder and Arcadia native Jeff Grosso’s death in March at 51 was caused by “acute polydrug intoxication” from the combined effects of fentanyl and phenobarbital, according to an Orange County autopsy report.

Russia remains banned from using its name, flag and anthem at the next two Olympic Games or at any world championships for the next two years, after an international court ruling that reduced the four-year penalty originally recommended by anti-doping authorities.

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

OPINION

— So, Sen. Mitch McConnell is finally ready to pass a COVID-19 relief bill. It shouldn’t have taken this long, The Times’ editorial board writes.

Orange County reminded us it’s still Orange County, columnist Gustavo Arellano writes.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— How climate change could work to Russia’s advantage, as more of its land becomes habitable. (ProPublica and New York Times Magazine)

— “I don’t think they knew going into it that I was willing to put up a fight.” A paramedic whose OnlyFans account was outed by the New York Post discusses the reaction and the support she’s received. (Rolling Stone)

ONLY IN L.A.

Co-living isn’t a new idea, or even a new target for tech money. But the creators of Treehouse, a co-living experiment in Hollywood, want to create the togetherness of intentional communities like co-ops, communes or Burning Man without the anti-capitalist politics or freegan cuisine. In an era when luxury is synonymous with isolation, they’re betting that real community can be packaged as a premium. The price tag? Rents for its dorm rooms start at $1,715 a month, plus a $210 fee to cover things like utilities, housekeeping, coffee and yoga.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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