By Wilson Walker

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — For weeks now, Bay Area leaders and health officials have been warning of an oncoming crush of coronavirus patients that will exceed our health system’s capacity to respond. As for when that might happen is still hard to say.

“Everything we know, from our epidemiologists and our experts, tells us that in a matter of days we will have serious constraints on the provision of medical services to those who need help,”  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Wednesday morning. He’s talking about the moment this crisis really starts to unfold in local hospitals. It is an a disaster that, for now, can be hard to see coming, even though it has already upended millions of lives.

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“People’s sacrifice and compliance with this tough advice is hard, because they can’t see the impact right now,” says Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna of Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. If you are skeptical and don’t see the impact in your community, look at Italy.”

“Basically, we’re a couple weeks behind Italy,” explains Art Reingold of UC Berkeley. “So by that approach, one would say you’re going to start to see a substantial uptick in the coming 2 to 3 weeks.”

Reingold is an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley. He says Italy and the United States may not be a perfect comparison, but the basic math suggests a similar enough courses for the spread of the virus. There are, of course, uncertainties. Our lack of testing means we are largely guessing at the number of cases in the United States, and where we might be in another week or so.

“So it’s certainly possible that extrapolating from Italy is not quite right, and that one could begin to see a substantial bump next week,”  Reingold says. “So I wouldn’t rule that out.”

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There are, however, some factors that may work to the public’s advantage. The steps everyone is taking to distance themselves from the potentially infected will undoubtedly slow the spread of the virus.

“When can we prove to you how many lives we save?” Radhakrishna asks. “It’ll be comparative math after the fact.”

That’s because the effectiveness of social distancing is as hard to predict as the current spread of the virus. Just about every part of this equation is a variable.

“I know it’s frustrating when people get comfort from the weatherman when they predict when we’re going to get a storm,”  Radhakrishna says. “It’s hard to tell from a geologist when we’re going to get an earthquake. But we know that this is spreading, it’s going to surge, it’s been increasing exponentially.  You’ve got to take her word for it.”

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