Crisis in Los Angeles: Every 15 minutes someone dies of Covid-19


The hospitals are full, oxygen is scarce and patients with a low chance of survival should no longer be brought to clinics. The staff in Los Angeles hospitals are at the limit – especially in the poorer neighborhoods. The number of corona deaths shows how dramatic the situation is.

The beeping of the life support machines is the only thing that can be heard in the intensive care unit of a hospital in one of the poorest parts of Los Angeles. Several older men lie in a row in an artificial coma and are connected to ventilators. “We’re doing our best. But we’ve seen so many deaths in the past few weeks,” says nurse Vanessa Arias.

Arias works at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital (MLK). A few minutes ago she had to bring news to another family that her mother was no longer alive. “We are in the eye of the storm,” says the nurse. The MLK hospital on the border between the poor neighborhoods of Watts and Compton in South Los Angeles actually only has 131 beds. It is now treating 215 patients, most of them for Covid-19. The hospital chapel and a gift shop were converted into treatment rooms and a field hospital made of tents was built in front of the entrance.

The USA recently recorded almost 4,000 corona deaths in 24 hours. California has become one of the pandemic hotspots with around 2,500 deaths per week. On average, one person dies every 15 minutes in Los Angeles as a result of the virus disease. Ambulances with Covid-19 patients are currently often on the road for hours in the second largest US metropolis before they finally find a clinic with free beds.

Blacks and Latinos affected above average

“If Los Angeles is the epicenter of the world, then this district is the Corona epicenter of Los Angeles,” says clinic director Elaine Batchlor. The patients here in the south of the city are mainly blacks and Latinos, two population groups that were hit harder than average by the coronavirus in the USA: their excess mortality rates increased by around 33 and 54 percent, according to a study. In contrast, the excess mortality rate among whites has risen by only about twelve percent.

Many of the patients at the MLK Hospital work in exposed professions: as salespeople or in local public transport. They often live in cramped conditions, so that protection from infection is hardly possible. “We see whole families get sick all at once,” says Arias, who herself comes from a Latino family and grew up in the neighborhood. “I could be one of them. It is very tragic to see people die who look like you.”

California has long since lost its role model status

Taylor Reed, who worked as a nurse in New York when the clinics there reached their limit due to the pandemic in the spring of last year, thinks the current situation is even more serious: “This is the worst thing I have ever seen,” she says 24 year olds. California was considered a role model in dealing with the pandemic in the spring. But that’s long gone. Now paramedics in Los Angeles are instructed not to bring people with low chances of survival to clinics. And with the number of deaths rising, authorities have begun distributing more than 150 refrigerated trailers around the city to store bodies.

In the United States, almost 370,000 deaths have been registered since the pandemic began, more than in any other country in the world. Experts also attribute the latest increase to gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday in late November. In addition, the effects of the Christmas days and all their family get-togethers are likely to come soon and the numbers will rise again. Hospital boss Batchlor is concerned with the enormous pressure on health workers: “Our doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit assure me that they have the situation under control. But I am worried because they have been under this pressure for so long.”

National Guard doctors recently added to the clinic’s overworked staff. With all the stress, nurse Arias tries to inform the relatives of all patients as regularly as possible. A few hours ago she called the family of an elderly woman whose condition was deteriorating. “I told them they had to come quickly,” says Arias. The family still didn’t make it in time to say goodbye.

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