LOS ANGELES – At Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Brant Putnam has watched the intense weight of the COVID-19 pandemic finally begin to lift in recent months — only to be replaced by another, relentless stressor.
In the first four months of 2021, gunshot victims have arrived at a much greater rate than usual.
The Level 1 trauma center in Torrance treats about 3,500 patients a year; an average of 15% experience "penetrating trauma" such as a shooting or stabbing, said Putnam, chief of the trauma and acute care surgery division.
So far this year, the figure stands at 19%, he said. From Jan. 1 to April 27, the hospital treated 142 shooting victims, compared with 76 during the same period last year — an increase of nearly 87%.
"This has definitely been one of the most stressful times in my entire career," said Putnam, a surgeon for 20 years who scrubs in and works 24-hour trauma shifts once or twice a week.
As COVID-19 began hospitalizing and killing more people in Los Angeles last year, so did shootings in the street. The increased bloodshed, much of it linked to gangs, surged as the economy faltered, leading to the deadliest year of violence in L.A. in a decade.
Surrounding areas of L.A. County saw similar increases in gun violence.
Now, four months into 2021, life is returning to normal in many quarters of the city as vaccination efforts drive down coronavirus infections, shutdown orders are lifted and businesses reopen.
The gun violence, however, is not receding.
According to Los Angeles Police Department data, the city as of Saturday had seen 465 shootings since Jan. 1, an almost 67% increase over the same period last year. Homicides, at 115 as of Sunday, were up more than 26%.