Officials say they’re having trouble getting the necessary amount of oxygen to critically ill coronavirus patients, with supply issues causing at least five Los Angeles County hospitals to declare an “internal disaster” on Sunday, which included turning away ambulances.
The shortage of oxygen isn’t the only problem, officials say. There’s also a lack of canisters, as well as aging hospital pipes that are breaking down and can’t maintain sufficient pressure due to the huge amounts of oxygen needed to keep up with the high number of patients, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, L.A. County health services director, said because of a high flow through the pipes, they freeze, “and obviously, if it freezes, then you can’t have good flow of oxygen.”
One of the hospitals facing oxygen issues is Memorial Hospital of Gardena, about 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
Chief Executive Kevan Metcalfe said the hospital is low on oxygen, and if it runs out, it could result in “deep, deep trouble,” according to the Times. Coronavirus patients generally need 60 to 80 liters of oxygen a minute, while other patients may receive six liters per minute.
The oxygen problems come as Los Angeles County has seen a recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced that more than 7,000 COVID-19 patients were currently hospitlaized with the virus, with about 20% of those in the intensive care unit.
The number of hospitalizations reported Tuesday was nearly a 1,000% increase from two months ago, health officials said. With more patients potentially on the way, officials worry the problem could get worse.
“Our health care workers are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and this current path of surging COVID-19 hospitalizations is not sustainable,” said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County‘s public health director.
She urged residents to stay home instead of attending a party this New Year’s Eve.
“Even if you believe your life isn’t at risk, actions that defy public health guidance certainly put other lives in danger,” Ferrer said. “Make ending this deadly surge part of your New Year’s resolution.”