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OC Hospitals In Crisis Mode As Coronavirus Surge Fills ERs, ICUs

ORANGE (CBSLA) – The University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange Monday was working to construct a field hospital to deal with the surge in coronavirus patients which has overwhelmed the hospital.

UC Irvine field hospital
A field hospital is constructed outside University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange to handle the surge of coronavirus patients. Dec. 21, 2020. (CBSLA)

Like hospitals across the Southland, UCI Medical Center is running out of beds in its intensive care unit. A UCI spokesperson told CBSLA early Monday morning that the hospital was treating 117 COVID-19 patients overnight, the most since the pandemic began.

"When it's completed it will accommodate up to 50 patients at a time," Brian O'Dea, with UCI Health, said. "We have not decided exactly how we are going to use it, but the main purpose is to decompress some of the volume in the emergency department and the inpatient units."

The field hospital, which is expected to be completed by Wednesday, will provide UCI Medical Center with 50 extra beds. The field hospital is equipped with running water, air purifiers and lighting, but does not have ICU capabilities, the UCI spokesperson emphasized.

UCI was not the only hospital facing a critical shortage as the pandemic continued to surge. Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Hoag Hospital Newport Beach received 50 more beds each, and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange got 25 more beds.

"It's been exponentially increasing since Thanksgiving," said Dr. Daniel Piticielo, a critical care physician at Mission Hospital Mission Viejo.

Inside the isolation ICU at Mission Hospital, some nurses keep track of COVID-19 patients from behind taped windows and doors. Other nurses, suited up with protective gear, tend to those struggling to breathe.

"While we are meeting the need now, we are going to get to a point like many other hospitals in California where they cannot meet the need," said Dr. Jim Keanu with Mission Hospital.

With Orange County hospitals maxed out, doctors are worried people will continue to spend time with others outside of their homes.

"People in the community are going to keep gathering and the numbers are going to keep going up," Piticielo said. "I think right now we can safely take care of our community, but if people gather for the Christmas holiday, we are going to be in trouble two weeks after that for sure."

Orange County's ICU bed availability remained zero in the "adjusted" metric, and was 12.1% in the unadjusted number. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

On Sunday, there were 1,682 coronavirus patients hospitalized across all O.C. hospitals, a record since the pandemic began. Of those, 375 were in ICUs.

O.C. health officials also reported a record-breaking 4,606 new daily coronavirus cases Sunday. O.C. has now recorded 124,428 coronavirus cases and 1,775 deaths from the disease.

The county received about 25,000 doses of the Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine last week, and county officials are expecting about 32,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that the state had recruited 500 new healthcare workers to help with the crisis, including 300 private nurses, 49 National Guard members, and 21 retired doctors and nurses.

Meanwhile, in a troubling sign of the times, a mobile morgue was parked outside Dignity Health - Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles. Officials told CBSLA it was brought it to prepare for the worst, but they are hoping they do not need to use it.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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