Photo: JOSH EDELSON / AFP Via Getty Images
As the coronavirus rises around San Francisco again, city officials are stepping up for the worst possible outcome: mass infections from the fall, potentially overloading the city’s health care system , and a sharp uptick in the death of the city.
At a virtual press conference on Thursday, San Francisco Department of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax confirmed that the number of COVID hospital patients is higher than ever, and stressed the urgent need for city residents to correct themselves to mitigate the spread of the virus. During the last peak in April, 94 people were hospitalized. Six weeks ago, that figure dropped to 26. But by the end of July, the number of those hospital jumped to 107. Of those, Colfax claimed, a quarter are in intensive care.
“In just 10 days, this month we went from 5,000 to 6,000 cases of COVID-19,” he said. “Let me be clear: We are in a huge increase of COVID-19. The virus is moving fast and more people are getting very sick. If this continues at current rates we estimate on average we will have more than 750 St. Francis in the field.hospital by mid-October and more than 600 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020. [The] the worst case scenario puts us among 2,400 hospitalizations and 1,800 deaths. These scenarios become more likely as each day continues with current trends. “
Such figures seem awesome, but at this point, they can still be avoided. Thursday recorded 6,423 cases and 58 deaths. Colfax pointed out that San Francisco hospitals are not as crowded as they were in New York, but that “it’s extremely serious that we’ve gotten to this point.”
Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, best agrees with the city’s assessment and current projections. While the current R0 score is just north of 1 – substantially lower than it was a week or so ago – the figures the city predicts for the near future are likely to still hold weight.
“In the past they were accurate,” Rutherford says of the projections for 4-6 weeks onwards. “As we go further, it’s clear to everyone. We use a variety of inputs to get estimates of where things might be, [but] It’s not as if we have a collection on this or are betting on it. They are intended for planning purposes. If [Colfax] is putting those numbers in there, that’s on what we’re planning. “
City officials are currently working to find the best ways to crash a surge in the hospital. On Thursday, Colfax and District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani announced 93 low-acuity care centers for non-COVID patients to release hospital beds for coronavirus cases. And previously an additional floor had been opened for COVID patients at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.
As for what could happen later this year, Rutherford is less certain about the city’s estimates. While the notion that an average of more than 750 people a day can be admitted to the hospital is plausible, he’s unsure about the predicted death toll of 600, noting that “it seems a little far.”
“But if this starts to re-enter the old people’s homes or if we have so many infected young people we will see them scattered in the ICU and mortuaries which will be very problematic,” he continues.
As for those worst case numbers? It’s still hard to tell. There is a possibility that this could happen, says Rutherford, but that result is far from certain at this point. “That’s the problem with modeling too far,” he says, “you get wide numbers, but you have to plan on something.”
All this aside, the future scenario that Rutherford is really concerned about is not strictly about the coronavirus – it’s also about the flu. “Will everyone be slow to have flu shots, and will we start inaugurating emergency departments with people with the flu and people with VOCID at the same time?”
It’s an awesome thought, but he adds the best way for San Francisco to prevent immense hospitals is to follow the recommendations from the health department – to do the things that are in their power.
“They can stay home when they’re sick, they can avoid going inside, they can get a shot against the flu,” he says. “That’s what they can control.”
And they should follow Colfax’s advice to deliver again Thursday: “Please wear a mask. It’s not hard.”
Alyssa Pereira is a culture editor at SFGate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @alyspereira