San Diego County hospitals on alert as COVID-19 cases surge

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Posted at 4:59 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 22:35:23-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — More than 5,976 new COVID-19 cases have been reported Thursday in San Diego County, the highest spike we have seen since January.

The uptick has caused alerts for hospitals, as they see a surge in patients.

Over the last several days, hospitals have received multiple alerts from the county, because more than 50% of the county emergency departments were on diversion, or bypass. That means they are closed to accepting new patients, to allow for ambulance traffic to continue, re-directing patients to other hospitals that are not at or near capacity.

The county's EMS medical director shares that the alerts are routine, typically done six to eight times a month.

RELATED: County surge in COVID-19 cases affecting local ERs

It is something some health professionals call a dangerous situation.

Thursday, Sharp Healthcare had 41 patients in their hospitals with COVID or awaiting test results. That is up from the 29 they saw on Christmas Day.

But what Emergency Services Director, Joshua McCabe says is most concerning is that Sharp Emergency rooms currently have 298 patients, 116 of them have COVID symptoms.

“We are concerned that we have doctors and nurses getting sick at the same time which would decrease our capacity," said McCabe.

The RN said the county wide alerts for diversion are daunting, but it does not mean that those who need the care will not receive it.

“In case we all go on diversion we would then start to triage patients that need more acute care and we can certainly see them," McCabe explains. "We have proven as a county and as a hospital system that we can handle previous surges, we will handle this, and we will be able to make it through this.”

Wednesday alone, 28,472 San Diegans got tested. McCabe said the issue is that many are going to emergency rooms instead of testing sites.

“We need to reserve the emergency departments for those who are sick and need emergent care from a physician and potential hospitalization. It’s not a place where people can come just for tests," said McCabe.

A Kaiser Permanente spokesperson says that also have noticed a significant rise in demand for testing, although they would not share a specific amount.

Other hospitals like Rady Children's, who did not receive the alert, told ABC 10News that from the 1,173 tests done by those of all ages, 289 came back positive.

The spokesperson with the hospital said 14 children are hospitalized and that number is expected to grow.

McCabe says in history, pandemics last typically 2 to 3 years, and usually end when the virus is more contagious and less deadly. He is hoping that means, the end is near. He asks that others continue to wear their masks, and get vaccinated if they have not done so already.

In the past two weeks, across the county, hospitals have seen a 19% increase in hospitalizations and an 11% increase in ICU stays.

As of Wednesday, the county reported only having 35 immediately available ICU beds across county hospitals.

Kristi Koenig, the EMS Medical Director for San Diego county shares, “Do we have all the resources we need? The staff, the stuff and the structure," she asks. "And to be honest it’s pretty tight right now.”

Koenig told ABC `10News that the reason for the alert is in part due to staffing shortages, and increased testing at emergency rooms, which is why ambulances are asked to go elsewhere.

“We will try to honor your choice, but at times like this when things get so crowded, we may have to take you to another emergency department just for your safety, because they have more resources at that time," said Koenig.

Scripps Health said Thursday they have 154 COVID patients, which is up 137 from Tuesday. UCSD's Hillcrest Hospital has 50 COVID patients currently hospitalized, and about `11 in the ICU.

“The inpatient side is very full, but the emergency department census is pretty steady," explains Dr. Ted Chan, an emergency physician at UCSD. "But we are having to have patients stay in the emergency department who are admitted to the hospital because there are not enough inpatient beds upstairs.”

Dr. Chan says that staff across the county are also testing positive. He and other health professionals are worried there will be less care for the surge they are expecting to continue in the next few weeks, “January will be very challenging," Dr. Chan furthers. "If you are not ill, not sick, and you are just looking to get tested, don’t go to the emergency department.”

Health professionals emphasize if a patient would like to get tested, to not do so at an emergency room, unless you display severe symptoms.

Koenig explains hospitals are experiencing long lines, which could put a potential patient in a vulnerable position to get COVID. She asks that you visit one of the county's testing sites.