An order for everyone to stay home, a ban on elective surgery, securing units to quarantine homeless, hiring more nurses — San Francisco is preparing for a surge of coronavirus patients as confirmed cases increased to 70 Thursday.
City officials say they are doing everything they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, in an effort to prevent its healthcare system from being overwhelmed by patients when the expected surge arrives.
“We are preparing for the surge that we think is coming relatively soon,” Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the Department of Public Health, said during a press conference Thursday with Mayor London Breed.
He added that “we are working with all hospitals and health care systems in our city for this surge planning.”
As for details on the surge, Colfax declined to share any. “This situation is fluid. Things are changing every day. We are looking at those models. We will share as much information as we can when it’s available,” he said.
Models show how many healthcare workers are needed along with bed capacity and equipment.
Colfax said they are swiftly hiring more nurses, as a result of a recent order by Breed to expedite the hiring process.
“We are preparing our health system and our city functions for a potential surge in coronavirus patients,” Colfax said. “And we hope it will be diminished by our aggressive efforts to slow the spread of the virus.”
The number of confirmed cases is likely an underestimate of the actual number of people infected by the disease in San Francisco. Some who are infected with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms. Since there is shortage of tests not everyone is getting tested and cases are left undiagnosed.
Colfax said that “we are decompressing the healthcare system as much as possible.”
On Wednesday, a health order was issued to ban elective surgery. People are told not to visit emergency rooms or urgent care clinics unless it is truly life threatening but instead call their health care providers or use telemedicine over the phone.
Trent Rhorer, director of the Human Services Agency, has identified about 500 units to place homeless or those living in single-room occupancy hotels who have to quarantine or isolate but don’t need to be hospitalized to free up those beds. Hospitals won’t release them if they show symptoms and are tested for COVID-19 unless they have a safe place to go.
Breed held the press conference after visiting Moscone Center South, where The City’s Emergency Operations Center was moved from its usual location on Turk Street to allow for more staff and adequate “social distancing” among the workers.
Breed was surrounded by city officials and signs that read “stay home” and “stay six feet apart.”
On Tuesday a health order went into effect requiring non-essential businesses to shutter and residents to remain home, except to make essential trips like to grocery stores or the doctor.
“We are up to 70 confirmed cases of coronavirus now,” Breed said. “As you can see, it continues to rise.”
San Francisco diagnosed its first two cases of COVID-19 on March 5. Confirmed cases increased to 51 as of Wednesday and increased by 19 for a total of 70 on Thursday.
“We want to make sure that we are prepared,” Breed said. “We want to make sure that we definitely flatten the curve.”