California virus outbreak hits hospitals and schools

California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms as the state has seen a startling surge in coronavirus infections.

The rapidly spreading omicronic variant of COVID-19 overshadows exposed or infected healthcare workers, even as hospital beds fill up with patients and “some facilities will be closed,” Health and Human Services Minister Dr Mark Ghali said Wednesday.

According to Kiyomi Burchill of the California Hospital Association, about 40% of hospitals expect to face critical staff shortages, and some report that a quarter of their staff has left for virus-related reasons.

In Fresno County, more than 300 district hospital workers are either quarantined due to infection or recovering, said Dan Lynch, the county’s director of emergency medical services.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department is transporting patients to hospitals in fire trucks rather than ambulances because 450 firefighters are absent after testing positive, acting assistant chief Brian Bennett told Carson City Council on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

In the future, according to officials, the district fire service will be sent on medical calls only in case of emergency.

“The rapid proliferation of the omicron has wiped out our workforce,” private company McCormick Ambulance, which is contracting with the county, said in a statement.

California had the lowest per capita incidence in the United States in September, but like the rest of the country, it is now seeing a sharp rise over the omicron variant. The number of confirmed cases of the virus has increased by almost 500% over the past two weeks, and since Christmas the number of hospitalizations has doubled to over 8,000. Government models predict hospital admissions could surpass 20,000 by early next month, a level almost the same as last January, when California experienced its deadliest spike.

At least nine hospitals in Orange County have set up special tents to increase their capacity if they become trapped in viruses and other medical problems such as strokes, according to Dr. Regina Chincio-Kwong, deputy director of the county’s health department. …

People with mild symptoms should start with a virtual visit to the doctor because “our hospitals, our emergency departments and our emergency services are full and they really need to focus their efforts on people who are really sick,” she said.

California has extended its home masks until mid-February to help fight the infection, but Gali said no further restrictions are being discussed, noting the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that were largely unavailable a year ago.

The virus drives back school staff even as 6 million K-12 students return to class.

The Sacramento City Unified School District said more than 500 students and staff were quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials are facing criticism for failing to deliver on a promise to conduct quick home tests for all California students and school staff before classrooms reopen after winter break.

Millions of test kits have been sent to families, but millions have not, and long lines have lined up at Los Angeles County testing sites this week.

California school principal Tony Thurmond on Wednesday called the delay “disappointing.”

Gali said logistics problems and poor weather in Southern California exacerbated the problem, but said about 6.2 million tests have been delivered to county education departments and more tests will be conducted this week.

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