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A continuing crush of patients in the South Bay became so severe Tuesday that the San Diego region’s two main medical facilities declared internal disasters, a term used to indicate that conditions have worsened to the point where patient care may be affected.

According to the report in the San Diego Union Tribune, Chris Van Gorder, chief executive officer of Scripps Health, said that the emergency department at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista had 73 patients mid-afternoon filling its 24 emergency beds and 23 more inside tents in the parking lot. Twenty more were in beds set up in emergency room hallways with additional spaces taken in areas traditionally used for recovery from surgical procedures or medical imaging.

He added in an email just after 9 p.m. that Scripps was able “to move some patients” and exit disaster status “for now.”

While such a cascade did not appear to be underway, a second facility – Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center – experienced similar levels of stress Tuesday, declaring the same internal disaster status.

The largest hospital serving the South Bay, Sharp Chula Vista had 30 of its 48 emergency beds occupied by patients waiting to be admitted to the main hospital, which was already full. As of 7 p.m., 116 of the medical center’s 349 total beds were filled with patients fighting COVID-19.

Statewide, California continues to struggle with large numbers of its residents testing positive. According to the Los Angeles Times, California recently hit the 7 million case mark, just one week after hitting 6 million, a record pandemic pace.

When the number of emergency patients exceeds an individual hospital’s resources, facilities traditionally turn to diversion, a system that allows them to significantly reduce ambulance deliveries, providing a few hours for harried staff to catch up.

But that option was taken off the table last week when the county’s emergency medical services director temporarily suspended self-directed diversion for all hospitals through Jan. 27. The move came as a way of coping with the fact that high patient volume was regularly forcing a large percentage of the region’s hospitals to simultaneously go on bypass.

Declaring an internal disaster is, in some significant sense, hospitals telling the region’s emergency medical services system that despite a ban on bypass, they can’t handle the volume and are closing their doors to additional ambulance patients.

Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday afternoon that duty officers who run the local emergency medical services system were working to help alleviate the disaster conditions at the two South Bay locations. The situation countywide, he added, did not appear to be as impacted as it was Tuesday in the South Bay.

Scripps said Tuesday afternoon that it has shifted some patients out of Chula Vista to other hospitals it operates across San Diego County. Transfers as far north at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, Van Gorder said, were occurring. Tri-City confirmed in a short statement Tuesday evening that it recently requested and received “some staffing support to address the challenging environment caused by elevated demand for services and workforce limitations during the current surge.”

Tri-City did not provide the total number of supplemental staff that the state sent to supplement its Oceanside workforce. McDonald said the number was about 50.