As Thanksgiving draws near, Fresno County hospitals are facing a surge in COVID-19 patients as coronavirus cases rise throughout the country.
Fresno County has 255 hospitalized coronavirus patients, per data last updated by the state Monday, which nears the peak of 313 on July 30. It has been a stark rise over the past few weeks. At the beginning of November, the county had 102 hospitalizations, and on Nov. 16 there were 151.
Of the total hospitalized coronavirus patients, 40 of them are receiving care in the ICU. The county peaked at 67 ICU hospitalizations in July, and the total has increased by 14 since the beginning of November.
Instead of the rise of hospitalizations being drawn out over a longer time, the trajectory is vertical.
“It’s straight up, and that’s a concern because we didn’t see that type of a vertical line when we were going through this at the end of June and into July,” said Dan Lynch, Central California Emergency Medical Services director, in a county health briefing Tuesday.
“It’s a concern for us, mainly because of the capacity of the hospitals. The hospitals are already busy. At this time of the year we’re always challenged with capacity in our hospitals without COVID. This is always a tough time for the hospitals in regards to the available capacity in the hospitals. So COVID is just exacerbating that problem.”
As the hospitals continue to fill up with COVID-19 patients and others – such as those suffering from the flu – EMS will explore using alternate care sites in the county, which will provide additional beds for coronavirus treatment.
Lynch said EMS will talk with the state about reopening the alternate care site located at the Porterville Development Center, as well as opening the Fresno Convention Center as an alternate care site for the first time.
The county had prepared the convention center in downtown Fresno as an alternate care site near the beginning of the pandemic in the spring, but summer surge of new positive COVID-19 cases did not worsen to the point where the site needed to be opened.
“We’re reluctant to open up any alternate care sites until we know it’s absolutely needed,” Lynch said. “We’ve seen throughout the state that they open up an alternate care site and it doesn’t get used. That’s a waste of resources, so we want to make sure that we’re ready. Because once we use that resource, it’s gone. So we need to make sure that that resource is open when it’s needed so that we can do that.
“People ask about the staffing for both those facilities. Well if we can’t staff the beds in the hospitals, how do we staff those facilities? So we’ve gone outside of California to contract with other staffing modules to bring into California to staff those facilities so that we’re not impacting our local resources.”
Regardless of staffing the alternate care sites, Fresno County hospitals are in the midst of a staffing crunch.
Community Medical Centers – which runs Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, Clovis Community Medical Center, Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital and Community Behavioral Health Center, along with other facilities – currently has about 250 staff members quarantined due to COVID-19.
Dr. Jeffrey Thomas, the Vice President Chief Medical and Quality Officer at CRMC, said the hospitals did not suffer as great a loss of staff to quarantine in the summer surge.
“It is impacting our care providers, their families and our workforce in a different way than what happened in July,” Thomas said.
The increased hospitalizations and staffing issues come as COVID-19 case numbers are skyrocketing in Fresno County. The state reported Tuesday that Fresno County has an 8.4% positivity rate as well as a 17.2 adjusted new daily case rate per 100,000 people. The case rate was adjusted down from 18.5 because the county is processing tests at a rate above average when compared to the rest of California.
Those numbers plant Fresno County firmly in the purple tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint, meaning the most strict rules and regulations apply. To return to the red tier – which the county was in two weeks ago – Fresno County will need to have a positivity rate under 8% and a new daily case rate that does not rise above 7.
With the Thanksgiving holiday this week, Fresno County health officials are encouraging everyone to abide by the state’s rules and limit gatherings to a maximum of three households and hold them outdoors.
David Luchini, the assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said following the rules comes in an effort to avoid overwhelming the local health care system with coronavirus patients.
“This is serious folks, and it’s really up to all of us to do our part to really slow this down,” Luchini said. “We can’t continue this spike and continue to hope that our health care system can be prepared with all their staff. They’re going to be impacted.”