Hospitals in Los Angeles are running out of oxygen amid a Covid-19 surge

Business Insider US

Michelle Goldson, RN works inside the ICU at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital on December 17, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Some Los Angeles hospitals are struggling with shortages of oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients, the Los Angeles Times reported. 
  • Covid-19 patients typically require ten times as much oxygen as non-Covid patients, and demand has strained the pipes of ageing hospitals. 
  • Los Angeles has seen a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases during the holidays, and public health officials are worried about the city's ability to handle any further surges. 
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At least five hospitals in Los Angeles County declared themselves internal disasters and were forced to reroute ambulances to other facilities over concerns about oxygen supply, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

The Times reported that several hospitals were facing shortages of oxygen canisters and that pipes in hospitals were breaking down because of the high volumes of oxygen being sent through the system.

Non-Covid patients typically require around six litres of oxygen a minute, according to the Times, but Covid-19 patients need 60 to 80 litres a minute.

Los Angeles has seen a surge of Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations, and deaths following the holidays. At one hospital, the gift shop and chapel had been converted to treatment areas.

As of Monday, Los Angeles had an average of more than 14,000 daily new cases over the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

The LA Times added that the positivity rate of Covid-19 tests is now at 17% in LA County, which more than four times the positivity rate the county had on 1 November. When it comes to oxygen, the demand is so high in some hospitals that the system can't maintain the needed pressure. In other cases, the high flow of oxygen has caused the pipes to freeze.  

Public health officials and healthcare workers have said that they don't see the surge peaking anytime soon and they are concerned that the healthcare systems may not have the capacity to properly treat everyone if cases keep climbing.

"All indicators tell us that our situation may only get worse as we begin 2021. The rate of community transmission remains extraordinarily high…. As cases continue to remain at these alarmingly high levels, hundreds more people are likely to die," Barbara Ferrer, LA County's public health director told the Times.

Dr. Tamara Chambers, an ICU physician at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center told Business Insider that the issue isn't just with limited beds to host patients, it's also having enough qualified healthcare workers to treat all the incoming patients. 

Chambers said healthcare workers at her facility have gotten ill with Covid-19 themselves meaning there's fewer staff to take care of patients. 

"I think we're being referred to as the frontline, but really we're the last line. We rely on public health and safety measures. We rely on people to stay home. We are trying to be the last line and provide the last level of care and support but there's only so much we can do," Chambers said. "The hospital is only so big, only has so many workers."

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