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Hospitals Seeing Holiday Surge In COVID-19. Peak Could Come Next Week

Inside the Intensive Care Unit of a Scripps hospital in this undated photo.
Scripps Health
Inside the Intensive Care Unit of a Scripps hospital in this undated photo.

Health care officials are just beginning to see the Christmas surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Scripps Health officials on Friday reported they were taking care of more than 500 coronavirus patients in San Diego County, that is three times what they saw in June.

"We are predicting more coming in," said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Scripps Health chief medical officer for clinical excellence and experience. "We’re not even at the peak yet. Next week is when we’ll start that curve."

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Sharieff said staff are making negative pressure rooms as quick as they can and another overflow tent was just added at their Encinitas hospital, which Friday was operating its intensive care unit (ICU) at 183% of capacity.

"We're hiring right and left. This week we had 180 new hires," Sharieff said. "We’re hiring EMT’s, we have a novel approach basically to help offload the nursing staff so we've gone to a model called 'team nursing.'"

Scripps officials said some staff are volunteering for shifts to relieve pressure in parts of hospitals. While team nursing allows them to do more with less, it does not necessarily mean the level of care is going down.

"I worry about the care in the sense of people that used to be in the intensive care unit now they are getting care in different areas; medical surgical units or step-down units," Sharieff said.

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A state-controlled field hospital is now up and running at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. It has 200 total beds, but as of Friday just 20 were staffed and the facility was caring for 13 patients. Low-acuity coronavirus patients are being housed there, but hospitals cannot just send overflow patients there yet so they are having to move them around county hospitals.

"We are transferring internally," Sharieff said "Interesting now it’s busy both at Encinitas and in Chula Vista."

This week "crisis care" plans were due to state officials for review, Sharieff is hoping they do not have to activate them.

Hospitals Seeing Surge In COVID-19 Patients Due To Christmas, Peak Could Be Next Week

"If if gets to that point it means that we’ve exhausted everything in the region and so I hope by working together we can avoid that crisis care level where we are pulling people off ventilators or not offering it to them in the first place," she said.

Vaccinations for frontline healthcare workers are still underway. Scripps officials estimated 70% of staff have gotten first doses so far and they just began rounds of second doses this week. That will take time though, and the pandemic is still raging on.

"We can get through this," Sharieff said. "We don't want anymore cases that could have been avoided and the last thing you want to do is be responsible for putting someone in the intensive care unit because you weren't careful."