LOS ANGELES, Calif. – As a shocking spike in coronavirus infections sweeps the state, California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms.
Even as hospital beds fill up and “some facilities are going to be strapped,” the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is putting exposed or infected health care workers on the sidelines.
According to Kiyomi Burchill of the California Hospital Association, 40 percent of hospitals expect critical staff shortages, with some reporting as much as a quarter of their staff absent due to the virus.
According to Dan Lynch, the county’s emergency medical services director, more than 300 workers at area hospitals were either isolated due to exposure or recovering.
Acting Assistant Chief Brian Bennett told the Carson City Council on Tuesday that the Los Angeles County Fire Department is transporting patients to hospitals in fire trucks rather than ambulances because 450 firefighters have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
Officials say the county Fire Department will only respond to medical calls if they are absolutely necessary for the future.
“Omicron’s rapid spread has wiped out our workforce,” “In a statement, McCormick Ambulance, a private company working with the county, said. In September, California had the lowest per-capita case rate in the United States, but it is now experiencing a dramatic rise from the omicron variant, as is the rest of the country.
In the last two weeks, confirmed virus cases have increased by nearly 500 percent, and hospitalizations have increased by more than 8,000 percent since Christmas. According to state models, hospitalizations could reach 20,000 by early next month, nearly matching the high of last January, when California saw its deadliest spike.
According to Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health director, “at least nine hospitals in Orange County have set up rise tents to increase their capacity if they are swamped by coronavirus cases in addition to an increase in other health issues, such as strokes.”
“Our hospitals, our ERs, and our urgent cares are all full, and they really need to focus their efforts on people who are really sick,” she said, so people with minor symptoms should start with a virtual visit to a doctor.
To help combat the infection, California has extended its indoor mask mandate until mid-February, but Dr. Mark Ghaly, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said no further restrictions are being considered, citing the availability of vaccines and COVID-19 treatments, which were largely unavailable a year ago.
Despite the fact that 6 million K-12 students are returning to school, the virus is keeping school personnel out of the classroom.
After testing positive for COVID-19, the Sacramento City Unified School District quarantined over 500 students and staff.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials have been chastised for failing to follow through on a promise to provide all California students and teachers with rapid, at-home tests before the winter break.
Millions of test kits were sent to families, but millions more were not, and testing sites in Los Angeles County have seen long lines this week.
On Wednesday, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond described the delay as “disappointing.”
Ghaly said the problem was exacerbated by logistical issues and bad weather in Southern California, but that 6.2 million tests had been delivered to county offices of education, with more tests being sent out this week.