SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In the wake of one death and 178 cases of the novel coronavirus in San Francisco as of Wednesday, city leaders are calling for more federal and state funding ahead of an anticipated surge of cases.
During a briefing at the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Mayor London Breed said while the city’s hospital system was in good shape to deal with the current cases, she predicted that could change.
“Right now we have about 1,300 medical/surgical beds, and 200 ICU beds. We definitely need a lot more than that,” Breed said. “This is not as easy as opening up a bed. It also requires that we have nurses, we have doctors, we have health care professionals and we have sufficient PPE [personal protective equipment] to keep them safe.”
Breed estimated the city will need about 5,000 more hospital beds and at least 1,500 ventilators.
Breed said she reached out to both Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, asking them for more resources for the city’s hospitals to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hope that they will deliver to the people of this state and the people of this country. Because time cannot be wasted,” she said.
For two weeks, health officials have been talking about “flattening the curve” and preventing the coronavirus from overwhelming the health care system with a surge of patients. Though the city is still heading for a surge of patients, officials say social distancing efforts are helping.
“In less than two weeks, we expect this surge of people to need hospitalization,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco Director of Public Health. “So our goal now is to, again, flatten the curve.”
San Francisco is now past 170 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Just two weeks ago the city had only two. But that increase could be worse.
“We know that the early steps we took to ask people to stay at home has definitely had an impact on the numbers that we are seeing every single day,” Breed said of the city’s shelter-in-place efforts.
San Francisco, like California as a whole, is seeing relatively slower growth than may other parts of the country. Some states are seeing rates of spread nearly twice as high, if not more. While that is good news, even successful social distancing might only buy health workers more time.
“It is plausible that despite all these efforts, we could have a scenario similar to the one that is playing out in New York this very day,” Colfax said.
New York is now racing into a spike of cases that’s not expected to crest for at least another three to five weeks. While California may have avoided that, for now, softening the front end of our curve is no guarantee for what the rest of it will look like.
“Because you could flatten the curve initially,” Colfax explained. “But then if things go back to normal that curve could very easily go back up.”
Breed also reminded residents to continue following the city’s public health order issued last week to stay home in order to slow the spread of the virus, and to only leave for essential outings like grocery shopping.
“This will reduce the likelihood that our healthcare system gets overwhelmed. The last thing I want, we want, is for those who need care to not be able to access it,” Colfax said.
Colfax added that in order to support the city’s health care system, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has hired 80 new nurses and has begun processing dozens of coronavirus tests daily, which return results in as little as 24 hours.
Additionally, he said, an entire floor at St. Francis Memorial Hospital will be dedicated to coronavirus patients. The unit, created through a partnership with Dignity Health, University of California at San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, will open in early April with just 10 beds, and then expand after that to as many as 48 beds.
“There has never been a more important time for our hospitals to work together,” said Dr. David Klein, president and CEO of St. Francis. “No one hospital can do this alone.”
Mark Laret, UCSF Health president and CEO, also said Mt. Zion Hospital will reopen sometime in early May and provide some 50-60 additional hospital beds.
“We must flatten the curve. We must get in front of this epidemic. We are going to face some very hard times in the coming weeks,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced that state operations have begun at Seton Medical Center.
The bankrupted hospital has been leased by the state in a plan to quickly expand the number of hospital beds available for victims suffering from the serious symptoms of the virus. The facility can house up to 220 patients.
In regards to shortages of personal protective equipment for medical staff, following the lockdown of Laguna Honda after staff members contracted the coronavirus, Laret said PPE is only being given to nurses, physicians and other staff who need it the most.
“The ideal approach would be to have plenty of PPE for every employee, but the fact of the matter is that we’re working with pretty intense shortages right now,” he said. “Over time, as we get additional stockpiles of masks, gowns, gloves, hoods and so forth, we will try to expand the circumstances under which those are utilized.”
Human Services Agency executive director Trent Rhorer also provided an update on the city’s efforts to house homeless people. So far, the city has leased 920 hotel rooms from eight hotels for homeless people in shelters, hospitals or those in single room occupancy hotels needing to be quarantined.
It’s also opening a “medical shelter” at the Moscone Center North, where vulnerable homeless people who can’t self-care in hotel rooms will be placed.
“With respect to individuals on the streets, we continue to promote social distancing for our outreach teams. We are setting up hygiene stations for them as well,” Rhorer said.
KPIX 5’s Wilson Walker contributed to this report.