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Fresno Hospitals at or Beyond Capacity Because of COVID-19: Dr. Vohra



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State figures show Fresno County’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients have increased by more than 48% in the last two weeks.

Eight more patients have gone into intensive care over the last 14 days — leaving 28% of the county’s ICU beds available.

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Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra said Friday that these numbers are concerning.

“I actually worked in the emergency department last night, and I actually saw more COVID patients last night than I have in any of my shifts,” Vohra said in Zoom call with reporters. “Our hospitals have really been messaging to us all week that they are at capacity or sometimes even over capacity.”

Vohra works at Community Regional Medical Center.

“All of my colleagues are intimating to me that really this is a moment that may actually mean that the real thing is happening.” Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer, Fresno County

Unforeseen Uptick

Vohra remembers just a few months ago when hospitals were under capacity and workers were being laid off and furloughed.

“But now the pendulum has swung into almost the opposite direction where people are kind of flooding the emergency department,” said Vohra. “All of my colleagues are intimating to me that really this is a moment that may actually mean that the real thing is happening.”

Vohra says he and his colleagues don’t know if a potentially big COVID-19 surge could happen this weekend or in the next couple of weeks.

Fewer Hospital Workers Available

Vohra says many frontline hospital workers that have come into contact with COVID-19 patients are at home in self-quarantine. So, there are fewer medical professionals to handle the increase in patients.

“It sort of feels like things are getting off-balance,” Vohra said.

Fresno Convention Center

In early April, the Fresno Convention Center was converted into a 250-bed field hospital site to alleviate a projected strain on local hospitals.

Beds, medical equipment, and personal protective equipment for staff and patients were brought in.

At the time, Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes said, “We welcome this valuable resource that will help hospitals provide necessary care to COVID-19 patients here in Fresno and throughout our Central Valley region should the need arise.”

But, just a few weeks later, the hospital beds were shipped to areas that needed them more.

GV Wire℠ asked Vohra what the status of the site is now that hospital capacity is being strained. He said that reopening the site would be a last resort, but he’s asking people to refresh their knowledge on how to operate it as an overflow location.

“I asked them (Emergency Medical Services Division) to review those protocols, just earlier this week,” Vohra said. “Just as a knock-on-wood precautionary measure.”

He says there are multiple steps that have to happen to get the Convention Center operational again.

One of the 250 beds at the COVID-19 field hospital inside the Fresno Convention Center in April. The beds were later sent to other regions of California. (GV Wire/Jamie Ouverson)

Reopening More Businesses

The news about hospitals reaching and exceeding capacity comes on the same day nail salons, tattoo parlors, and game centers reopened in Fresno County.

“The number of businesses and the social activities that we’ve now permitted are going to allow this virus to find victims much more efficiently than before,” Vohra said. “And, at the same time, we really haven’t expanded the total number of hospital beds substantially. If anything, we’ve contracted it a little bit.”

He’s not opposed to putting the brakes on reopening and even pulling back if conditions warrant. It’s not something he’s planning to do yet, but he’s also seeing other areas of California and the country experiencing COVID-19 surges.

“We would be naive to think that it couldn’t happen here,” said Vohra.

Nail salons reopened in Fresno County on Friday. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Is State’s Remdesivir Program Ending?

Remdesivir, a novel antiviral drug, was originally developed in 2002 for the first SARS outbreak and was tried as an Ebola treatment in 2014. Remdesivir has shown promising results treating COVID-19 in laboratory studies but hasn’t been validated on a wide scale for patients.

“In a perfect world, remdesivir should be given to anyone,” said Dr. Eyad Almasri of UCSF Fresno told GV Wire℠ and other reporters on Zoom in May.

Vohra says the state delivered 260 vials of remdesivir this week. That’s enough to treat about 20 patients. Fresno County also still has some remdesivir on hand. But, the state program is coming to an end soon.

“We did receive some disheartening news, which is that program is going to come to an end in the next week or two, and that the state will no longer be supplying remdesivir,” Vohra said.

But Reuters reported Friday that the federal government will ship more remdesivir to states with a rise in COVID-19. The states include California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ website.

California will receive 464 cases of 40 vials each, Texas will receive 448 cases of 40 vials, Florida will receive 360 cases of 40 vials and Arizona will receive 356 cases of 40 vials, according to the website.