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California

San Francisco’s mayor fears city could face coronavirus crisis as big as New York’s

San Francisco
A man looks toward the skyline from Bernal Heights Hill in San Francisco on March 16. The city’s mayor said Wednesday that the coronavirus crisis could escalate in San Francisco to the degree it has in New York City.
(Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

San Francisco leaders said Wednesday that it was plausible the city could face a crisis similar to that of New York City’s and fall short 1,500 ventilators and a 5,000 hospital beds.

“It is not even a question as to whether we will need more,” Mayor London Breed said during an hourlong news conference.

She said she sent a letter to state and federal government officials “making it clear what we need.”

“This is not the first time,” she said. “I hope that they will deliver.”

On Wedesday evening, the city was forced to lock down Laguna Honda Hospital, a skilled nursing facility with elderly patients, after four nurses and a staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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Hours earlier, Breed used her news conference to repeatedly ask the public to remain at home and engage in social distancing.

If people fail to do that, she said, authorities may need to turn them or their sick relatives away from hospitals because of shortages, she said.

San Francisco now has confirmed 172 cases of the virus and one death. City officials who spoke at the news conference said social distancing appears to be helping, but the number of cases rises every single day.

“Sadly, things are going to get worse,” Breed said.

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The news conference appeared aimed at countering President Trump and others who contend the stay-home orders are excessive.

“I know there are people out there who will lead you to believe our efforts are too aggressive, but I cannot stress enough just how vital they are,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of health for San Francisco.

A day earlier, Breed used even stronger language in response to Trump.

“Why are we still listening to the president?” Breed said Tuesday on KGO-TV. “I mean, the fact is, we here in our city, throughout states in the United States of America, we have demonstrated, sadly, that we have had to jump into action and make this work without federal government support.”

The drivers of Santa Clara County’s economy — tech companies, foreign travel and close human interaction — made it a ripe target for the coronavirus.

Colfax said the city expects to see a surge of virus cases in less than two weeks. He added that he could not estimate how long it would last.

Based on modeling by epidemiologists and infectious-disease experts, “it is plausible that we could have a scenario similar to what is playing out in New York this very day,” Colfax said. “If that happens, our surge capacity will be far exceeded. We will require federal and state assistance. We cannot manage that alone.”

The drivers of Santa Clara County’s economy — tech companies, foreign travel and close human interaction — made it a ripe target for the coronavirus.
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The city has been ramping up for the crisis, securing new hospital beds, postponing elective surgeries and acquiring hotel rooms where infected people can isolate.

San Francisco now has 1,300 medical beds and 200 staffed intensive care unit beds, enough for the “initial surge,” Colfax said.

The city also is preparing to open a new floor at St. Francis Memorial Hospital for coronavirus patients only, with 40 medical beds and eight critical care beds. Plans are afoot to add another 50 to 60 beds by May 1 at another hospital, officials said.

They noted the city is now testing about 400 people a day for the virus with kits aimed at getting 24-hour results.

So far, the city has leased more than 300 hotel rooms, said Trent Rhorer, executive director of the city’s human services agency. Infected homeless patients now in hospitals for isolation will be moved into some of those rooms, he said. Leasing also is underway for another 920 rooms.

Rhorer said the city also has ordered enhanced cleaning of single room occupancy hotels and was setting up sanitary stations on the streets for homeless people.

The homeless who are most at risk — those 60 or older and those who have underlying medical conditions — will be given priority for hotel rooms, Rhorer said.

Those who are unable to provide self-care will be moved into a staffed medical shelter, he said.

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At Laguna Honda Hospital, operated by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, patients will still have access to the 62-acre campus but will be barred from the hospital.

Only 15 of about 750 patients at the facility have been tested for the virus. None was positive.

The lockdown will remain in place until California lifts its stay-at-home order.


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