St Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley uses triage tents to handle the overflow at its 200 bed hospital. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Beds in intensive care units were scarce throughout California Wednesday and many hospitals said they lacked enough doctors and nurses to care for COVID-19 patients.

The Golden State is now the epicenter or the pandemic in the United States, with the Department of Public Health reporting 39,069 new cases and 361 more deaths Wednesday. A total of 18,448 Californians were hospitalized with coronavirus disease and 3,827 were in ICU beds.

“The whole California ICU capacity has been going down. We are all struggling,” said Dr. Imran Mohammed of Sutter Roseville Medical Center, north of Sacramento. “We really don’t want to see more than this. We will be challenged to see further ICU patients and we will have no place eventually.”

Los Angles County reported Wednesday that just 57 ICU beds were open, staffed and prepared to accept patients among 70 hospitals.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of that county’s Department of Health Services, said about 750 new COVID patients are being admitted to hospitals every day.

The field hospital set up at UC Irvine Health in Orange. Courtesy OC Health Agency

“These rising cases will put even more strain on our already overburdened hospitals and the people who work in them,” Ghaly said. “New patient hospitalizations have continued to increase at a rate that we haven’t seen before in the pandemic.”

Orange County set a record for COVID-19 patient hospitalizations on Wednesday as it racked up 4,406 more coronavirus cases.

“Our numbers today are not good,” said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. “Anything with a four in front of it is terrible, three is terrible, two is terrible.”

The county now has three mobile field hospitals up with 50 beds at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange and 25 each at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Los Alamitos Medical Center.

The case numbers were even worse in Riverside County, where 5,121 additional cases were confirmed Wednesday. Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton said hospitals are resorting to surge capacity plans to expand critical care space wherever possible.

San Diego County was in a little better shape with 141 ICU beds available as of Wednesday, but the state activated an emergency hospital unit on an unused floor of Palomar Medical Center as a precaution.

“Up in LA County they have already run out of ICU beds, and frankly we’re not all that far from it,” said Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health at a media briefing

He said Scripps expects ICU utilization by COVID patients to peak on Jan. 11 at nearly 500 beds in use locally. He added that there are already so many coronavirus that all but the most urgent other operations are being postponed.

Health officials are pleading with Americans not to travel and congregate during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to avoid a  new surge as occurred after Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Updated at 5:35 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

— From Staff and Wire Reports

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.