California surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic and officials disclosed Thursday that three more cases involving a mutant variant of the virus have been confirmed in San Diego County.
The grim developments came as an ongoing surge swamps hospitals and pushes nurses and doctors to the breaking point as they brace for another likely increase after the holidays.
“We’re exhausted and it’s the calm before the storm,” said Jahmaal Willis, a nurse and emergency room leader at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley. “It’s like we’re fighting a war, a never-ending war, and we’re running out of ammo. We have to get it together before the next fight.”
Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, has had 40% of the deaths in California, the third state to reach the 25,000 death count. New York has had nearly 38,000 deaths, and Texas has had more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Infections are spreading rapidly. San Diego County confirmed Thursday that it had found a total of four cases of the virus variant that appears to be more contagious. A 30-year-old man tested positive for the variant on Wednesday and three more men — two in their 40s and one in his 50s — also have been confirmed to have the strain. Other cases involving the variant have been confirmed in Florida and Colorado.
At least two of the men in San Diego County hadn’t traveled outside of the country and none had “any known interaction with each other,” the county said. Officials believed many more cases will surface.
San Diego County also reported a record high number of new deaths in a single day at 62, well over the previous record of 39 reported only a week earlier.
Hospitals, particularly in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley in the middle of the state, have been overrun with virus patients and don’t have any more intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients.
In Los Angeles County, hospitals have been pushed “to the brink of catastrophe,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, health services director. “This is simply not sustainable. Not just for our hospitals, for our entire health system.”
Cathy Chidester, director of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency, said hospitals are facing problems with oxygen with so many COVID-19 patients needing it because they are struggling to breathe. Older hospitals are having difficulty maintaining oxygen pressure in aging infrastructure and some are scrambling to locate additional oxygen tanks for discharged patients to take home.
Ambulances are being forced to wait in bays as long as eight hours before they can transfer patients inside hospitals — and in some cases, doctors are treating patients inside ambulances, she said.
Most of the state is under a 10 p.m. curfew and newly extended restrictions that have closed or reduced capacity of businesses. People are being urged to stay home as much as possible to try to slow the spread of infections.