COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions hit record highs, health officer warns peak ‘yet to come’


CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KGPE) – COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions are hitting new records throughout the Central Valley this week, and health officials fear numbers will continue to rise.

Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said Tuesday that a major concern is that hospitals haven’t felt the peak effects of Thanksgiving gatherings yet.

“We do anticipate that these numbers will keep going up. Just plain positive cases that we’re seeing, many of these people will get sick next week or the week after that. That’s the concern. It’s not just the hospital cases that we’re seeing today. It’s the number of positive cases that we know will go on to get hospitalized throughout the month of December,” Vohra said.

According to state data, there were 229 positive COVID-19 cases on Monday, 301 on Sunday, and 460 on Saturday in Fresno County.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the peak. I think that the peak is yet to come, and I’m very concerned that our hospitals will not be able to meet the demands that will be placed on them,” Vohra said.

The state calculates that the San Joaquin Valley region has a 5.6% available ICU capacity as of Tuesday morning. Five days ago, it was at 19.7%.

In Fresno County, that percentage is much lower. According to the state, Fresno County has 0% ICU capacity.

Vohra said that’s a snapshot in time and things can change and move around. He also added that some ICU patients are being cared for in other parts of the hospitals, such as the emergency department.

“Overall, the capacity is severely impacted, and I can say personally that is happening across the hospitals that we’re in dialogue with here in Fresno County,” Vohra said.

As of Sunday, the county was caring for 408 COVID-19 hospitalized patients, in addition to 28 suspected of having it, and 66 were in the ICU. The state hasn’t updated the numbers since then.

The peak in COVID-19 confirmed patient hospitalizations in the county during the summer surge was 313.

Hospitals throughout the Central Valley are also breaking records.

Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia, as of Tuesday morning, was caring for 104 COVID-19 patients, the most ever in the pandemic.

“I’m very worried that it will only continue to rise and put more and more pressure on our hospital,” Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst said.

He said Tuesday that twelve of the patients were in the ICU on ventilators. Of the 41 ICU beds they have, eight are open, but he added that staffing is a challenge.

“We are incredibly, severely short-staffed,” he said. “They’ve been at this for nine months. They are tired. They’re exhausted. Unfortunately, morale is really being tested. They are truly heroes.”

Herbst said they’ve asked the state for staffing assistance, but haven’t heard back.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday that the most scarce resource is staffing, adding that they’ve gotten a number of requests across the state for more staffing.

“It is getting harder,” Ghaly said. “We’re reaching out to as many individuals through our Health Corps program to get that help and as soon as we have it, we try to get it to the facilities where it can benefit them the most. Central Valley is certainly that area currently with the lowest available ICU capacity, so they are a clear target for additional staffing requests.”

Dan Lynch, the Fresno County Emergency Medical Services Director for Fresno County, said the Porterville alternate care site is scheduled to open on Monday, Dec. 14.

Vohra said the community has to bend the curve to help decrease number of new infections.

“All the thing that you’re hearing about how impacted our hospitals are, about how dire this situation with our ICUs is, it’s absolutely true, and that really is the reason that we want everyone to stay home as much as possible,” Vohra said.

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