California hospitals were ordered to accept Covid-19 patients from elsewhere in the hard-hit state if they have capacity, and to postpone non-critical surgeries, as record coronavirus cases continued to surge Wednesday.
Health officials are scrambling to cope with a massive influx of coronavirus patients in California, which has recorded more than twice as many new cases as any other US state in the past week.
Intensive care units in the populous southern part of the state -- including Los Angeles -- and the central San Joaquin Valley are stretched beyond capacity, though some of the state's northern regions have been less severely hit.
"When they are capable and when such transfers are clinically appropriate, all hospitals in the State of California must accept patients from hospitals in crisis care," said a public health order issued late Tuesday.
Most regions including Los Angeles County -- where ambulances have been turned away from hospitals, and army engineers drafted in to help bolster oxygen supplies to wards -- are under a state-mandated "stay-at-home order."
Los Angeles hospitals are so overwhelmed that ambulance workers have been told to stop transporting some patients with extremely low survival chances.
In the directive Tuesday, hospitals in counties with very low ICU capacity were ordered to indefinitely postpone all non-critical surgeries, to free up space and staff.
With more than 2,200 hospital workers contracting Covid-19 last month in Los Angeles county alone, state officials have requested a further 500 federal medical staff as reinforcements.
"Bringing additional medical staff into the state will allow us to save lives and ensure our hospitals systems are not overstretched," said Governor Newsom.
"Now is the time to use every resource at our disposal to fight the spread of this virus and protect Californians."
But a navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, used early in the pandemic to ease the burden on Los Angeles hospitals was undergoing maintenance in dry dock and not available, officials said.
And as California races to unroll a mass vaccination program to stem the tide, the Los Angeles Times reported that dozens of non-medical staff were able to skip the line at various city medical centers without showing any proof of employment.
Less than one-third of the 1.6 million vaccines delivered to California have been administered so far.
Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday warned that "we've seen too many health care workers not able to show up for work right now," but insisted that "not a single bit of vaccine is going to waste."