A registered nurse with a coronavirus patient inside the intensive-care unit at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital on December 17 in Los Angeles. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Some patients at one Los Angeles hospital are now being treated in the gift shop and chapel as COVID-19 cases surge. 

COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County continue to break records, and many intensive-care units have reached full capacity in the past several weeks. 

Public-health experts attribute the rise mainly to people traveling and visiting friends and family members during the holidays. 

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A Los Angeles hospital is so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases that it has begun to treat some patients in the gift shop and the chapel, CNN reported Monday.

Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, said if cases continued to rise, the hospital might have to result to wartime techniques of rationing care.

“We may be forced to do something that, as health professionals, we all really just loathe having to even think about,” Batchlor told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.

The hospital serves poor communities in South Los Angeles, The New York Times reported.

Dr. Oscar Casillas, the medical director for the hospital’s emergency department, told The Times that while the emergency department could normally see about 30 people at a time, it had seen as many as 100 people a day during the pandemic.

The hospital’s waiting room is now a tent outside.

“Everything is backed up all the way to the street,” Casillas said.

The Times said COVID-19 patients accounted for 66% of the community hospital’s capacity.

Similar situations are playing out in hospitals across Los Angeles County, especially in South Los Angeles. Earlier this month, California activated its “mass fatality” program after deaths surged in the state. The program is meant to ensure local agencies aren’t overburdened. Southern California, which spans more than 56,000 square miles and has a population of nearly 24 million people, had reached full intensive-care-unit capacity at the time.

Story continues

Los Angeles County officials are testing local samples to see whether the new coronavirus strain spreading rapidly in England is also spreading in California. That strain is feared to be more contagious – though experiments are ongoing – but not more deadly.

Many health experts, however, including Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health director, have said Southern California’s surge can be attributed to people ignoring social distancing and other protective measures during the holiday season.

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