San Francisco Mayor London Breed is seeking assistance from the state and federal government to battle coronavirus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Breed: SF needs 5,000 more hospital beds, 1,500 ventilators for coronavirus surge

Bracing for a surge in coronavirus patients, Mayor London Breed said Wednesday that San Francisco needs 5,000 more hospital beds and 1,500 more ventilators.

The estimates come after weeks of discussion among health officials and hospital leaders about how the respiratory illness may spread in San Francisco and cause a surge in patients.

The bed estimate is also based, in part, on what is currently happening in New York, the hardest hit area in the nation at the moment, where cases are soaring and creating a demand for more hospital beds. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that new COVID-19 cases there are now doubling every three days.

Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the Department of Public Health, said that “there are plausible scenarios that would put us in a situation like New York is in.”

That is why city officials and hospitals are preparing for such a surge.

While there are about 1,300 staffed regular medical-surgical beds and 200 staffed intensive care unit beds in local hospitals, Breed said The City will need as many as 5,000 more staffed hospital beds and 1,500 more ventilators.

“Our entire hospital system has been doing the work to create a plan and to ramp up our resources, but we cannot do this alone,” Breed said. “We need support from the state and from the federal government to have the tools we need, whether it’s more ventilators, more equipment, more hospital beds, or more medical staff to help operate these facilities, so that we can be ready for a surge that could overwhelm our system.”

She wrote separate letters Wednesday to Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, and to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for support.

“Our government and our hospital systems are currently stretched and approaching capacity, and we request your immediate assistance before we hit our peak patient load,” Breed wrote.

City officials estimate a surge in patients who need hospital beds within two weeks, similar to “a surge in hospitalizations like every other community where the virus has taken hold,” Breed wrote.

Newsom has estimated that across California there was a need for an additional 50,000 hospital beds and he has started to secure them throughout the state as hospitals also expand their own capacity by adding more beds to existing facilities or planning to set up tents. In San Francisco, Newsom is in talks to reopen the CPMC Pacific Campus hospital at 2333 Buchanan St. for 157 beds, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

The City also provided more details Wednesday about the plan to open 48 beds for coronavirus patients at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, beginning with an initial 10 beds in the first week of April. The beds are available through contributions from St. Francis hospital along with Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and University of California-San Francisco.

David Klein, CEO of St. Francis Memorial Hospital and a member of the Hospital Council for Northern and Central California, said that “a public health issue of this magnitude must be addressed with creative solutions.”

“The hospital council has been working to identify these solutions since the very beginning of this crisis,” Klein said. “No one hospital can do this alone.”

Mark Laret, president and CEO of UCSF Health, said that UCSF is contributing $1 million toward the St. Francis beds and is “planning to reopen our Mount Zion Hospital by May 1, hopefully sooner, to expand our capacity by at least another 50 to 60 beds.”

To prepare for the surge, more than 80 nurses were hired by The City through a new expedited process with plans to hire as many as 220.

San Francisco’s confirmed cases of coronavirus increased to 178 on Wednesday, an increase from Tuesday’s count of 152. The first case of the virus was confirmed in San Francisco on March 5.

On Tuesday, The City announced its first death from coronavirus, a man in his 40s with multiple underlying health conditions.

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