Intensive Care Unit capacity declines as COVID-19 cases rise

Patients in need of high amounts of oxygen therapy may use a mechanical ventilator and are cared for in the ICU,  Gordon said.

Mechanical ventilator / Basheer / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

“Patients in need of high amounts of oxygen therapy may use a mechanical ventilator and are cared for in the ICU,” Gordon said.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reach an all-time high, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity is rapidly decreasing across California.

Almost all counties in California have been moved into lockdown indefinitely in hopes this will not only help the new surge of cases but also the overwhelmed healthcare system. 

San Mateo County is currently at 4% ICU capacity but must reach 15% capacity to re-enter the Purple Tier and remove itself from the regional stay-at-home order. 

The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases are causing mass amounts of people to require intensive care, leaving hospitals near or at capacity. 

“The patients who are in the ICU with COVID-19 stay sick for a long time, so they aren’t leaving quickly,” said Dr. June Gordon. “So the number of patients just increases, and beds get more filled up.” 

As ICU capacity reaches its peak, many hospitals are experiencing a shortage of staff to combat the overload of patients. According to USA Today, nurses oversee exceedingly more patients, as the 1-1 ratio between nurses to patients has now increased to 1-4. 

The quality of care may decline and the mortality rate may increase when the capacity of these ICUs is exceeded, according to The LA Times. Consequently, people in need of other types of critical care may have a more difficult time obtaining access to the ICU. 

“It’s very alarming that beds for non-COVID surgical and emergent patients are being taken up as well, because unexpected events may occur that leave these people out of an ICU bed,” Savannah Bols, a sophomore, said. 

ICUs are crucial for people to receive the treatment they urgently need, intensifying the need to lower the COVID-19 infection rates. The recovery and well-being of our community depend on the ICU. 

“I understand that the guidelines are frustrating, and none of us want to do them; however, it is the only way that we can stop the spread and return things to the way they were before,” said Sophia Morgan, a junior. 

The simple tasks of wearing a mask, social distancing, and following the stay-at-home order saves lives.