3 Santa Clara County hospitals out of ICU beds; 1,700 new cases in single day
Latino community elected officials and leaders at a news conference at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Three Santa Clara County hospitals have run out of Intensive Care Unit beds while health officials reported 1,700 new COVID-19 cases in a single day this week.

The county has hit a critical point in the pandemic, health officials said, and urged people to follow health orders, especially in light of this weekend’s Lady of Guadalupe celebration.

The Dec. 12 holiday pays tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a symbol of devotion and identity for Latinos around the world, that is marked by prayers, parades and pilgrimages.

South Bay Latino leaders joined health officials Dec. 11 to implore people to stay home, practice social distancing and not celebrate with those outside their households. Many Catholic churches in the area will be closed.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe church in East San Jose, which has been decorated to mark the event, the celebration is especially significant. The area is home to the city’s largest Latino community.

East San Jose has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic: Latino residents make up 55.4% of the positive cases in the county, despite being only 25.8% of the county’s population, according to Santa Clara County Public Information Officer Corina Herrera-Loera, who is also a trustee on the Alum Rock Union School Board in East San Jose.

The county recorded 1,172 new cases on Dec. 11, bringing the county’s total case count to 45,178. It also reported 7 new deaths for a total of 526 deaths.

Regional Medical Center of San Jose, less than two miles away from Our Lady of Guadalupe, is one of three hospitals in the county that has reached ICU capacity. O’Connor and St. Louise are the others. As of Dec. 11, the county has reported that it has 43 ICU beds available — 12 percent of the total ICU bed capacity.

If the county runs out of ICU beds, it has a “very robust mutual aid process” to ensure all COVID-19 patients receive beds, officials said, even if they are outside the county.

Part of the plan includes sending patients to San Mateo and Alameda counties, Dr. Ahmad Kamal of Santa Clara County Health Care Preparedness said at a Dec. 9 news conference. Specific hospitals were not mentioned.

He also said  hospitals could look into converting more of their regular beds to ICU beds, bringing staff from less impacted departments into ICUs and adding outdoor tents to expand physical space, although Kamal said the county has not reached that level yet.

“We’re still not imminently there, but the trajectory is concerning enough that we do need to take steps immediately,” Kamal said.

The disproportionate amount of cases among Latinos has caused alarm among leaders in East San Jose. Local church leaders, including Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose, are encouraging local churchgoers to celebrate without risking other people’s lives.

“Even Pope Francis has encouraged people to stay home during this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Cantu said in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe church. “He has given a plenary indulgence to people who stay home, create a small altar in their home and follow the mass on television or internet from our homes.”

Cantu was joined by San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, who represents East San Jose, and Councilwoman Rebeca Armendariz of Gilroy. Gilroy is home to St. Louise Hospital.

“We’re reminded 500 years ago when Mary appeared to Juan Diego. Juan Diego was concerned about his sick uncle who was dying at home,” Cantu said. “And Mary said, ‘Don’t worry.’ It was at that moment that Mary appeared to Juan Diego’s uncle who was ill in bed and healed him. What I say this year is that in a pandemic, Mary comes to our homes. So I encourage you to celebrate your faith from home.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] and on Twitter @lloydalaban.

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