San Francisco warns of coronavirus surge: ‘The worst is yet to come’

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, left, has called on the public to stay at home.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, left, has called on the public to stay at home.
(City of San Francisco)

San Francisco officials warned that a surge in coronavirus is expected to come within a week or two, and voiced dismay over images of the public crowding beaches and parks across California.

“The worst is yet to come,” San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax said at a news conference Monday. “Every community where the virus has taken hold has seen a surge in the number of coronavirus patients who need to be hospitalized. We expect that to happen in San Francisco soon, in a week or two, or perhaps even less.”

San Francisco has already taken steps to decompress the healthcare system — banning almost all visitors to hospitals and long-term care facilities, canceling elective surgeries and routine medical visits, and ordering appointments be done by phone or video if possible, and opening up tents to care for mild coronavirus patients to keep hospital beds free.

But officials say based on what’s happened elsewhere, the surge will come.

The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb exponentially in California, with more than 1,700 cases and 27 deaths by Monday afternoon. Just three weeks ago, there were only 43 cases and no deaths. Los Angeles County has reported more than 500 cases and eight deaths; the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area has reported more than 800 cases and 14 deaths.


San Francisco Mayor London Breed voiced distress over people picnicking during a pandemic.

“The folks who are out on the streets having drinking parties, the folks who are out on the streets socializing and coming together and not taking this social distancing requirement seriously, you are putting lives at stake, you are putting public health in jeopardy,” Breed said.

“It’s not a matter of whether or not we’re going to have more people get sick — they are. And what happens if it’s your grandmother? What happens if it’s your uncle? And what happens if we don’t have a bed for them?” Breed said. “It is a matter of life or death. This is not the time for a party, for a play date.”

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in California.

People should only be going out, Breed stressed, for essential trips like to get food, or when exercising, to keep away from others by at least 6 feet and moving out of the way of other people. Breed said children’s playgrounds have been ordered closed, as they have in Los Angeles County, but she would rather not be forced to shut down San Francisco’s parks unless she has no choice.

“It’s really the last thing I want to do,” Breed said, “so I want to to ask — I want to plead — to the people of our city to comply with the order.”

By slowing the spread of the virus, she said, “our goal in preparing is to make sure our hospitals have the capacity, have what they need, to prepare for what we know is coming.”

Marin County, just north of San Francisco, Sunday ordered the immediate closure of all Marin County parks, including Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods National Monument, Mt. Tamalpais State Park and all county, city and town parks. The crowds in Marin County over the weekend surged into local grocery stores and were sometimes bigger than seen typically in summertime.

“It would be best if residents and visitors enjoy the weather and natural beauty in their own yards and neighborhoods,” Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin County deputy public health officer, said in a statement. The Marin County public health officer, Dr. Matt Willis, disclosed Monday that he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Colfax, the San Francisco director of health, said there are plenty of spaces in San Francisco for people to get exercise while maintaining distance from other people. “It is not a time for outings, gatherings at home or any occasions that raise your risk of being exposed or transmitting the virus,” he said. “We need to slow it, and we need to slow it way down.”

Colfax said that in the wake of two workers at the city’s Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center testing positive for the coronavirus, the city is in the process of relocating about 20 to 30 homeless patients who are well enough to leave to other locations.“We are doing everything we can to protect the workers and the residents of Laguna Honda,” Colfax said.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that he knew some in the city were still not complying, but that he remained reluctant to hand out misdemeanor tickets.

“I’ve heard a lot about, ‘When are you going to enforce? When are you going to enforce,’ ” Scott said, adding, “We are trying to get voluntary compliance because we believe that is the way to go.”

He said that 911 calls were down by 20% to 25% over last year and crime has also fallen. Though there have been widespread reports of harassment against Asian Americans, Scott said his department has no documented cases.

Last week, the San Jose police chief warned he would start enforcing the public health order to shut nonessential businesses soon. His officers discovered 55 violations last week of business operating, including flower shops, gyms, a video game store, car wash and a billiards hall.

“A billiards hall? Are you kidding me?” Chief Eddie Garcia said during a news conference. “Education is going to turn to enforcement very soon.”

Lin reported from Millbrae, Ryan from Los Angeles, and Greene from Thousand Oaks. Times staff writer Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this report.