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Doctors Brace For Surge As COVID-19 Hospitalizations In LA County Reach All-Time High

The scene at Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, where a field hospital was set up to prepare for an influx in COVID-19 patients. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Doctors in Los Angeles County are urging people to socially distance and wear masks as they see an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“[In terms of] capacity, we still have some room, but in my mind, it’s not going to take very much to really stress the system,” said Dr. Andrea Austin, an emergency physician in downtown Los Angeles.

Austin said she’s seeing more COVID patients, but also more people coming into the emergency room for non-COVID injuries and illnesses as businesses have reopened.

“We were really bracing for a New York situation in April, and fortunately, that didn't happen. But those plans are still in place,” Austin said. She said outdoor tents are still up at one of the hospitals where she works, but the concern will be about the work force.

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“We can surge quite a bit as far as physical space. I think the challenge will be staffing at that point,” Austin said.

L.A. County health officials said Wednesday that the number of hospitalizations are the highest they’ve been since the pandemic began, with more than 2,000 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19. Four weeks ago, that number hovered between 1,350 to 1,450.

Dr. Larry Stock, an emergency physician at the Antelope Valley Hospital, said he's seen more people coming into the ER.

"We're seeing increased volumes of COVID patients and there's been a change. One, we're seeing younger patients," he said.

Stock said that volume has increased so much that the emergency room had to hold about 20 patients on Tuesday who were waiting for beds to become available so they could be admitted.

Another emergency physician, who works at a hospital in downtown Los Angeles, is seeing the same in his department.

“This is now an everyday occurrence, patients being held in the emergency room waiting to go upstairs to a bed,” said the doctor, who did not want to be identified.

“Hospitals, emergency rooms, ICUs, they are reaching their capacity and we are about to enter a very very difficult several weeks,” he said.

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