Orange County suspends ambulance diversions as hospitals reach capacity

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Wednesday issued an order suspending ambulance diversions for hospitals that take part in the 911 system.

The order means that ambulances will no longer be redirected from one hospital emergency room to another when a hospital reaches capacity.

Dr. Carl Schultz, the agency's EMS medical director, said in a statement that hospital emergency rooms have become so overwhelmed due to the COVID surge that "almost all hospitals were going on diversion."

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"If nothing was done, ambulances would soon run out of hospitals that could take their patients," Schultz said. "Therefore, we temporarily suspended ambulance diversion. While this will place some additional stress on hospitals, it will spread this over the entire county and help to mitigate the escalating concern of finding hospital destinations for ambulances."

Schultz added: "To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened before."

On Monday, Schultz issued a memo to authorize ambulance providers to take patients up to 29 years old to Children's Hospital of Orange, but another memo released Tuesday from Schultz scrapped that.

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"Multiple logistic complications have occurred as a result of this directive and it would be in everyone's best interest to cease this activity, effective immediately," Schultz said.

Orange County on Wednesday logged 3,231 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative case total to 111,168. The county also reported 23 additional fatalities, rising the cumulative death toll to 1,718.

Hospitalizations jumped from 1,371 Tuesday to 1,486 on Wednesday, including 319 intensive care unit patients, up from 296 the previous day.

Both are new records -- a daily occurrence since last week.

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The county's ICU bed availability dropped from 10.4% Tuesday to 9.5% in the unadjusted category, and from 1.4% in the "adjusted" metric to zero. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The 11-county Southern California region's percentage of available ICU beds dropped from 1.7% to 0.5%.

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

CNS contributed to this report.