Hospital officials Tuesday pleaded with the public to follow precautions against the coronavirus as cases surge and staffing and space at local hospitals dwindle to dangerous levels.

At Riverside Community Hospital — where officials said 214 COVID-19 patients are currently admitted — a former cafeteria was converted last weekend as alternative care space to handle the surge of patients who are waiting in the emergency department for a hospital bed.

“What I see is devastation,” the hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Annette Greenwood told City News Service. “I’ve been a nurse for 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

She said the current spike in coronavirus cases is mostly attributable to Thanksgiving gatherings. The potential impact of the Christmas holiday has only begun to appear.

“I don’t think we’ve seen at all what the Christmas surge will look like yet. And that’s what’s scaring us to death. They’re talking about doubling the numbers that we’re seeing right now and that would overwhelm us,” Greenwood said.

The California National Guard deployed nine members of its medical corps to help the hospital’s emergency department and six nurses to help the ICU, but officials said the hospital remains short staffed, with an ICU that is completely full.

“There’s not additional resources to gain in terms of nurses,” Greenwood said. “People are picking up extra shifts. They’re everything to these COVID patients. You can’t have your family in with you because of the risk so we’re praying with these patients, we’re helping them call their families, we’re singing with them and when we need to we’re being that last hand to hold before people pass into eternity. And so the strain emotionally, along with physically is just overwhelming to the team.”

Kaiser Permanente’s Riverside and Moreno Valley medical centers reported that their intensive care units are also at capacity and they have had to convert conference rooms, waiting rooms and other areas of the hospitals into patient care areas as part of their surge plan.

The facilities are treating a combined 211 COVID-19 patients, officials said.

Officials at Riverside University Health System-Medical Center said the facility was implementing a surge plan and that its ICU was over capacity, with beds in other parts of the hospital filling up fast.

“I just can’t reach out enough to say please wear a mask, please social distance. Don’t get together at New Year’s Eve, please don’t,” said Greenwood.

As of Monday, coronavirus hospitalizations countywide numbered 1,367, up 40 from Thursday, according to RUHS. That includes 282 intensive care unit patients, 27 more than last week.

That number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units is up 151% since Nov. 27.

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