Coronavirus surge in Southern California leaves hospitals on verge of rationing care

U.S. hits new record for COVID-19 deaths
U.S. hits new record for COVID-19 deaths 01:43

Hospitals in Southern California are on the verge of rationing care. A Los Angeles County hospital is so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that it's now assembled a triage team that would ultimately decide the fate of those critically ill. 

"The hospital system is bent as far as it can bend and the next sound may be a snap," said Cliff Daniels, chief strategy officer at Methodist Hospital of Southern California. 

"It is the unimaginable decisions that would have to be made to deny care to people who need it because there's not the resources available," he said. "We have not reached that stage. We're on a pace to get there."

Some hospitals are so packed patients are being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment. 

The state's Emergency Medical Services set up an oxygen depot in Riverside County to help with the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, according to CBS Los Angeles. The oxygen depot, which is made up of two large oxygen generators that will fill large tanks used by hospitals, will augment the local oxygen supply. 

A more infectious strain of the virus has now spread to at least seven states. One epidemiologist predicts a five-fold increase in deaths if the strain becomes dominant. 

The pandemic claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 Americans on Wednesday, the most deaths in a single day since the start of the outbreak. The death toll tops 364,000 as of Thursday night, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

So far, more than 5 million people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In an effort to speed up the rollout, Florida's governor has converted Miami's Hard Rock Stadium into a large-scale vaccination site. Local pharmacies in select states have begun receiving vaccines this week. 

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    Jonathan Vigliotti is a CBS News foreign correspondent based in London.