By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — As the surge in COVID-19 cases continues in Orange County, doctors are bracing for what they’re calling the “Thanksgiving effect.”

Physicians are worried that the next few weeks will bring a flood of new patients who were exposed over the holiday.

“When I say Thanksgiving effect, I’m assuming that based on  increased travel, increased movement and people getting together that we’ll see an increase in cases just like they did in Canada during their Thanksgiving in October,” said Mission Hospital ER Physician Dr Jim Keany. “I think we’re going to start seeing that  probably today as people get back to work and start feeling ill.”

Orange County reported 734 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the cumulative case count to 78,553. No additional deaths were announced, and the death toll stands at 1,577.

The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus increased from 597 on Sunday to 605 on Monday. The number of patients in intensive care declined slightly from 148 to 146.

On his rounds at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo on Monday, Dr Jim Keany said he counted 30 people in the ICU area devoted to COVID-19 patients, which is about half of the facility’s 63 licensed ICU beds.

“As expected, what we’re seeing is a continued surge in cases,” he said. “So we’d gone from a low of 5 cases in intensive care unit to last week about 20 and pretty close to 30 cases today,”

Across the county, hospitalizations have jumped substantially in the past week. At ICU Health in Orange, COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 31%. At Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, they’re up 45%. Throughout the Providence Hospital system, there are 30% more coronavirus patients who have been admitted than at the same time last week.

Healthcare workers are concerned that there’s no flattening of the curve.

“Well, I would imagine December is going to be one of our biggest months so far and I’m hoping at some point that we get to a flattening out or top on this curve but on the trajectory we’re on… I’d expect Christmas to be much worse than Thanksgiving,” Keany said.

Older patients continue to be hardest hit by COVID but Dr. Keany said young people and healthy people with coronavirus are being seen at local hospitals, too.

ICU nurses, as well are sounding the alarm about the threat of not having enough nurses and doctors to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We’re burning out… and it feels like there’s no relief,” said ER Nurse Peter Sidhu. “We do not have enough nursing staff to take care of the patients that we have coming through our doors.”

Health experts say if the only concern was getting enough physical resources, there would be less to worry about, but the issue at hand is a shortage of enough staff.

“We can add rooms, we can pull in ventilators, we have enough equipment now, but you can’t bring a qualified critical care nurse out of thin air,” said Mission Hospital ER Dr. Jim Keany.

Nurses say in order to save money, hospitals for years have scaled back on hiring staff nurses and instead hired freelance and traveling nurses.

With demand soaring due to the pandemic, there’s just not enough nurses on hand.

Despite the alarming trends seen, health experts say it’s still not too late to prevent the worst of this outbreak from occurring by wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing and frequently washing your hands.