Hospitals at brink as states brace for more COVID-19 deaths

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Last Updated Dec 18, 2020 7:00 PM EST

Patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs are in need of emergency care. Instead, they’re waiting in ambulances or outside in the cold for hours. 

Officials in Southern California said the region is getting crushed by the coronavirus pandemic. There are no more open intensive care unit beds in the entire Southern California region, and just more than 2% are available statewide. 

California now has more daily COVID-19 cases than India or the United Kingdom. The state has had nearly 150,000 new cases in the last three days alone. At this pace, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts nearly 70,000 deaths in California and more than 560,000 nationwide by April 1. 

Despite the grim figures and local restrictions, more than 84 million Americans are expected to travel over the holidays, spelling disaster for hospitals. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor showed “CBS Evening News” the triage area set up in her ambulance bay. Her hospital is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 fight, located in a low-income, under-resourced community in South Los Angeles. 

“I’m worried that we could see ourselves in a situation like New York, where the healthcare system was overwhelmed. And when that happens patients start dying,” Batchlor said. 

Batchlor said there’s nowhere else to ship patients when every hospital is at capacity. Her hospital has put more beds in the emergency room waiting room and in the hospital gift shop. 

“We have got four tents out front as well,” she said. “We’re using every space we can find.” 

The U.S. has so far vaccinated at least 50,000 Americans with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The goal is to give the first doses to 100 million people by April. 

A second vaccine by Moderna is on the verge of getting emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Once approved, six million initial doses will be shipped across the country in the next week, and 20 million doses are expected by the end of the year. 

Mola Lenghi contributed to this report. 

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