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"In Los Angeles, Ambulances Circle for Hours and ICUs are Full"

STAT interviewed Karin Michels, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, about how the pandemic response played out in Los Angeles County over the past year, and why the region’s confirmed cases are so high

Friday, January 15, 2021

The situation here is dire. Every minute, 10 people test positive for Covid-19. Every eight minutes, someone dies. Ambulances circle for hours, unable to find ERs that can accept patients. Hospitals are running out of oxygen. ICU capacity is at zero. Patients lie in hallways and tents. Emergency room nurses have more patients than they can handle — sometimes six at a time.

The National Guard has arrived, not to help treat patients, but to manage the flood of bodies. As Los Angeles County approaches its millionth case of Covid-19, doctors describe their wards as war zones. Even the gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have gotten sick.

Just why did conditions deteriorate so badly in Southern California? And do the overwhelmed hospitals here offer a glimpse of what other regions may soon face as case counts rise steeply and a seemingly more infectious strain takes hold? Or did the unique and long-standing vulnerabilities of the nation’s second largest city conspire to ignite this current “surge on top of surge” that so many had feared but few predicted would get so bad that residents would be urged to refrain from entering grocery stores and, in some cases, to wear masks even while they are at home.