California COVID-19 cases surge, straining the health care system

Dr. Darien Sutton, ABC News medical contributor and a California emergency medicine specialist, discusses the crisis he is witnessing in his state.
3:21 | 01/03/21

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Transcript for California COVID-19 cases surge, straining the health care system
Joining us from Los Angeles is ABC news contributor Dr. Darien Sutton. Dr. Sutton, good morning to you. You are treating patients right there in the middle of this California surge. Hospitals are setting up tents in parking lots. Reports of ambulances forced to wait eight hours to unload patients. What are you seeing in the emergency rooms there? I'm seeing exactly that. As I'm getting ready to go to my emergency room in about an hour or two, I'm expecting to see the same, which is unfortunately emergency room continues to be full of patients who are boarding, patients admitted to the hospital but don't have a room upstairs. This makes it more difficult to triage additional patients coming into the emergency room. What I'm concerned about is there are patients who require the hospital for general care for their chronic disease, patients with kidney disease who require dialysis and patients with cancer who require chemotherapy. Unfortunately as the hospital gets to this capacity, the burden falls on these patients who are already vulnerable. It's a lot to juggle for the staff as you mentioned. There are six reported cases of the new highly contagious strain of covid from the uk discovered in southern California. How worried are you this variant is more widespread than we even know? I'm very concerned. I'm hopeful it's not contributing to the surges we're currently seeing, likely associated to the holiday travel, as well as indoor gatherings that are continuing to go on. I will be honest I do believe although we've seen six documents, it's likely more spread and more variable around us than that. I'm going to try to keep my hopes up. I'm very concerned about this new variant. T to ask you about the vaccine. The roll-out has been slow and bumpy with a variety of delays. You got the vaccine. You've seen them administered. Where do you think the breakdown is happening? What should be done to pick up the pace? I think it's an issue in distribution. Right now we have vaccines sitting on shelves. I think many states are seeing difficulties, difficulties in logistics of actually distributing the vaccine. A lot of this is because of public health care systems taxed with contact tracing and managing covid are also taxed with distributing the vaccine and they need more help. That requires more assistance from T federal government and also more communication and participation between private and public health sectors. The L.A. County health director says they're seeing an increase in the number of people dying from covid who did not have underlying conditions. Is there any data to suggest why this is happening? We don't have data yet. I can tell you from my experience patients are getting younger who are coming in sick with the virus. A lot of that is due to the behavior. Naturally those who have a high risk history are more likely to be risk adverse to the virus and have behaviors appropriately for that. Many people are becoming fatigued from covid-19 and engaging in high risk behaviors. Including indoor gatherings. I think a part of that trend is simply from the fact that more younger people are getting infected with covid. A lot of people letting their guards down. Thank you, Dr. Sutton. Dan, over to you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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