Less than two weeks after Burbank surpassed a total of 5,000 COVID-19 cases on Dec. 29, it appeared that the city would breach the 6,000-case mark as a nationwide surge continued.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported on Thursday that 5,856 people in Burbank had tested positive for the coronavirus as of the previous day, putting the seven-day average of new daily cases in Burbank at 106.3. That average had been as high as 114.3 on Christmas, thanks partially to a case backlog.
Also as of Wednesday, 129 Burbank residents had died due to the disease since the pandemic began. More than 65 of those deaths were connected to cases at nursing facilities, according to the city’s emergency management coordinator, Eric Baumgardner.
Public Health officials also reported this week that more than 200 people were dying from the coronavirus every day in the county, and that more than 8,000 were hospitalized with the disease. One in five people getting tested for COVID-19 are testing positive.
As of Wednesday, more than 871,000 people in L.A. County had tested positive, and more than 11,500 people had died. Those figures were roughly 458,000 and 7,900, respectively, a month earlier.
“This pandemic has been one of the toughest times in our history,” Mayor Bob Frutos said in a statement. “In Burbank, we have businesses that are closed, employees that have been laid off, and our residents, like those elsewhere, are getting sick and are in the hospital. A lot of our residents and businesses are hurting and feeling stressed.
“To protect our community, we have implemented more stringent face covering requirements and hired a company to help enforce this [health order]. We have consistently warned people to social distance, wash their hands and stay at home as much as possible. At the same time, we have sent a letter of non-support to the County when they once again closed our restaurants to outdoor dining right before Thanksgiving.”
COVID-19 patients are also swiftly becoming a more common sight in the intensive care unit of Burbank’s local hospital. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which releases weekly averages of hospital-level statistics, about 72% of adults in staffed ICU beds at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center from Dec. 25-31 were positive for COVID-19.
The HHS figures, collected every Friday-to-Thursday period and released on Mondays, also indicate the hospital had an average of about 9.66% of ICU capacity remaining during that period, an improvement from the reporting week of Nov. 27-Dec. 3, when only 8.04% of capacity remained.
However, the average number of adult COVID-19 patients in the medical center’s ICU also more than doubled from that earlier week, while the average number of adult patients without the disease was cut almost in half.
Meanwhile, as of the end of 2020, the average of unoccupied staffed inpatient beds at the hospital was 12.06%, with about 52.8% of patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
While those averages provide some estimation of what Providence St. Joseph’s occupancy rates look like, Baumgardner advised that figures are changing by the hour.
“Hospital census does change daily and fluctuates a couple percent plus or minus,” he told the City Council on Tuesday, when he reported that the hospital was about 75% occupied, with 85% of staffed ICU beds occupied. He told the Leader that while those figures were accurate on Tuesday morning, they likely became outdated quickly.
Baumgardner also said at the council meeting that the hospital is using components of its surge capacity plans and that tents are set up outside to screen patients, allowing workers to prevent those infected with COVID-19 from intermingling with other patients.
“I know that when the pandemic started this past spring in 2020, we all hoped or thought by the end of 2020, by the new year, we wouldn’t be in this position and the worst would be over,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services, said in an update on Monday. “But today, unfortunately, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that given the current state of the pandemic in Los Angeles County, the worst is almost certainly still ahead of us.”
Some hospitals have reportedly been running low on oxygen tanks and other supplies, but Ghaly said the most “constrained resource” is staff members.
Baumgardner also noted that while hospitals such as Providence St. Joseph may have more beds than are being used, staffing shortages have meant that not all of those beds can take patients.
Nurses and doctors are taking extra shifts to take care of as many patients as possible, but fatigue and stress have taken a toll.
“Staff is tired,” said Keith Hobbs, CEO of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale. “Fatigue has set in. There was concern the community didn’t adhere to some of the guidelines around Thanksgiving as far as physical distancing and not getting together with folks outside of your immediate family. As a result of that, we’re seeing a dramatic spike.”
— Staff writer Oscar Areliz contributed to this report