Huntington Hospital was among the local health care hubs expected this week to receive the first batches of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, in what medical professionals hope will be the initial step toward ending the coronavirus pandemic.
The two-part vaccine is expected to be joined by others that await or will soon be sent for emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer’s inoculation was approved last Friday and trucks shipping the vaccine departed the company’s manufacturing facility in Michigan to much fanfare on Monday.
“We are thrilled at the news delivered that Huntington Hospital could receive our initial shipment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week, as directed by Pasadena Public Health,” said Dorey Huston, the hospital’s senior manager of public relations and media, in a statement. “Our caregivers who have been at the front lines of this pandemic will be the first eligible to receive these initial doses, and we look forward to vaccinating our entire workforce as soon as possible under our ethical framework based on risk-exposure.”
Meanwhile, on the day vaccinations began, Los Angeles County continued its dramatic surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this past Monday, driving down the availability of intensive-care unit beds and pushing emergency rooms to capacity limits. To help ease the strain on hospitals, Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services, urged residents not to visit emergency rooms for non-emergency care, but instead seek help through other means, such as contacting their health-care provider or going to an urgent-care center.
“Certainly if you need emergency services, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department, and they are able to take care of you,” she said.
But Ghaly painted a dire picture of the situation at the county’s 70 “911-receiving” hospitals, which have emergency departments and wind up treating COVID-19 patients. Last week, an average of 35%, or 874, of all patients in hospitals’ available ICU beds were COVID-19 patients, while 27%, or 2,681, of patients in standard hospital beds were being treated for the coronavirus.
“Those numbers are absolutely astounding,” she said.
Health officials point to an increase in gatherings and travel from the Thanksgiving holiday for the current surge.
“We are concerned that the upcoming holidays could create a new wave of infections if health orders are not followed,” Huston added. “We are pleading with the community to help us stop this surge today by continuing to wear a mask and physical distance as you leave your home for essential work and activities only, and refrain from gathering with anyone outside of your household during the holiday.”
Dwindling ICU capacity prompted the state to impose a stay-at-home order for the 11-county Southern California region earlier this month. The order was triggered when overall ICU capacity dropped below 15%. As of Monday, the state’s estimated ICU capacity for the region — adjusted based on the percentage of current COVID versus non-COVID ICU patients — dropped to 2.7%
The state’s regional stay-at-home order — which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — bars gatherings of people from different households.
Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities were forced to close:
• Indoor recreational facilities
• Hair salons and barbershops
• Personal care services
• Museums, zoos and aquariums
• Movie theaters
• Bars, breweries and distilleries
• Family entertainment centers
• Card rooms and satellite wagering
• Limited services
• Live audience sports
• Amusement parks
Schools with waivers can remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity.
Restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery service only. Hotels are allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support only,” while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services. Entertainment production — including professional sports — would be allowed to continue without live audiences. The order will remain in effect until at least Dec. 28.
“We are proud to be here for our community during this pandemic, and are grateful for everyone who is helping us stop the spread,” Huntington’s Huston concluded. “Your support means everything to us right now.”
— City News Service contributed to this report.