Santa Clara County is working with local hospitals to prepare for an expected surge in coronavirus patients, county Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center CEO Paul Lorenz said at a press conference on Sunday.
Lorenz said there are approximately 2,500 hospital beds in the county. Roughly 400 of the beds are dedicated to pediatric care and 350 are for critical care, 75% to 80% of which are currently occupied. Approximately 290 additional beds can be converted to an "ICU level of care," he said.
"If in fact the demand goes beyond our capacity, we are working with the county emergency operations center to come up with a communitywide search plan," he said. "That plan would include looking at all 2,100 adult beds that we can equip and staff for critically ill patients."
Lorenz added that "less acute patients" could then be taken to alternative facilities in the county to free up room at hospitals.
The county is also looking to hire more health care workers and is bringing retired employees back into the workforce. The county can reach out to the state and federal governments for additional staff should that be necessary, Lorenz said.
"We need to have the surge capacity in place as quickly as possible," he said. "We are moving as rapidly as we can. ... All of the hospitals in this county have prepared their own surge capacity plans, and that allows those facilities to ramp up their own facilities beyond what they're currently staffed at.
"I think the most important variable in all of this is to maintain our health care workforce and to grow that workforce ... and the ability for us to equip those hospital beds with ventilators and other necessary equipment. We are also moving very rapidly with the county EOC, the state and the federal government to make sure we have those items in place as quickly as possible."
He said the community has been "really helpful" in following the directions of local health officials, adding that local emergency rooms are now seeing a "much lower volume." Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 is being asked to call their health care provider or 211 before going to urgent care or an emergency room.
"We were not expecting to have the results so quickly of the emergency rooms not being crowded because people are actually taking those steps, and that's really critical," Chavez said. "We want to make sure we have beds for people who are in the highest need."
Chavez provided another piece of good news: Community members have donated thousands of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment for health care workers amid a national shortage of such items. The Valley Medical Center Foundation is continuing to collect monetary donations online and protective equipment, which can be dropped off beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, March 23, at the foundation's office on the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center campus, 2400 Clove Drive in San Jose.
Masks and gloves that aren't hospital grade are also needed for local food bank workers, she noted.
Chavez also encouraged those who are healthy and want to volunteer to deliver meals to sign up at siliconvalleystrong.org.
Access a recording of the press conference here.
Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County reported two more deaths and 39 new infections as a result of the coronavirus on Sunday afternoon, bringing the total number of cases to 302.
Chavez said in a press conference Sunday that the ninth and 10th recorded deaths in the county were women in their 60s and 40s, respectively. Both women died Saturday, March 21. The woman in her 40s was hospitalized Monday, March 16, according to the county. Further information was not provided.
Officials also announced in a press release Sunday that Santa Clara County Director of Communications and Public Affairs Maria Leticia Gómez has tested positive for COVID-19.
She became ill on March 13 and received her positive test result on Sunday, March 22.
Gómez agreed to share her health status publicly, according to the press release. She has been isolated at home since March 13.
"The county has instructed all employees, including those who have been in contact with Ms. Gómez, that they should not go to work if they show any symptoms of illness," the county said. "We are also notifying all members of the county workforce with whom Ms. Gómez may have had contact while contagious that they may have been exposed."
Of Santa Clara County's COVID-19 cases, 108 people are hospitalized; 77 are presumed to have been community transmitted; 75 are close contacts of known cases; 22 are associated with international travel; and 10 people have died, according to the county's public health department.
On Saturday, the county reported 67 new cases of coronavirus, which marked the biggest jump in cases in one day for the county.
"This increased case count is not unexpected given community transmission, an increase in provider reporting, and growing testing capacity through the commercial market," according to a county press release.
San Mateo County
As of Sunday morning, March 22, San Mateo County announced seven new COVID-19 cases, bringing its county total to 117, and one death.
Parking restrictions near Windy Hill Preserve
Portola Valley Town Manager Jeremy Dennis issued an emergency order on Sunday that prohibits parking adjacent to the entrances to Windy Hill Preserve's trails on Portola and Alpine roads and Willowbrook Drive, according to a Sunday afternoon email sent out to residents by Mayor Jeff Aalfs.
"Our experiences (including reports from many of you) over the last two days at Windy Hill indicate that not only are some of the trails incompatible with social distancing, the use of our streets for parking and trail entry is creating unsafe conditions as well," Aalfs wrote.
The order will be enforced beginning Monday, March 23, "until the County Order is lifted," he said. There will be increased signage in the affected areas.
Windy Hill, a Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserve, is among several local spots that have seen an uptick in visitors in recent days. The National Park Service announced in a tweet Saturday night that it would close multiple gates at Point Reyes National Seashore beginning Sunday, March 22, "after unprecedented visitation."
The open space district reaffirmed Friday, March 20, that its preserves and trails are open to the public with new health and safety measures in place, including: restrooms are closed; areas with high use will be intermittently closed without notice to promote safe social distancing; group gathering areas are closed; and group activities are suspended.
Aalfs noted in his email that town staff "has been in touch with San Mateo and Santa Clara County officials, MROSD officials, the Sheriff's Office, and others in discussion about the use of open space facilities during the current shelter in place crisis," but did not specify whether further measures are being considered at this time.
SAFE farmers market
For three weeks beginning Thursday, March 26, the SAFE (Sanitary Allocation of Food Essentials) Portola Valley Farmers Market will operate from 2 to 6 p.m. at the site of the usual Thursday farmers market, 765 Portola Road, according to an email from the town Sunday.
The market will be pre-order only with drive-thru pickup. Food will be prepacked, and households will be limited to five bags per order. The deadline for all orders will be 7 p.m. the Wednesday before the market, and products for the following week's market will become available online at noon every Friday.
The market will also offer special delivery for residents of the Sequoias retirement community and those in vulnerable populations.
For more information or to pre-order, visit the SAFE Portola Valley Market website.
Menlo Park-based lab to process coronavirus tests from new Hayward center
A partnership with a Menlo Park genetics laboratory firm will allow Hayward to open a dedicated center offering free COVID-19 coronavirus testing on Monday, March 23.
The COVID-19 testing center at the city's fire station at 28270 Huntwood Ave. can handle up to 370 tests a day, "But we don't expect it to get that high," said city spokesman Chuck Finnie.
Tests are intended for those displaying symptoms, first responders, and health care workers with recent suspected exposures to the novel coronavirus.
The intent is "to take pressure off hospital emergency rooms, provide quicker answers for recently exposed first responders and health care workers, and to enhance the region's capacity to suppress new transmissions through isolation after testing," the city said in an announcement Sunday.
"We don't want the wondering and the worried to come — they need to stay home," Finnie said. "We want sick people to come."
He added, "It's not a test people are going to want to take unless they have to. It's not pleasant."
The test involves swabbing of nasal cavities and the back of the throat.
Hayward Fire Department firefighter-paramedics will staff the center, with assistance from ambulance company emergency-medical technicians.
"No referral from a medical doctor is required to be screened," the city said.
The center will operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and is free and open to "anyone regardless of where they live or immigration status," according to the announcement.
"We know it's going to be chaotic on the first day," Finnie said.
People will first undergo a two-part screening for illness, which includes fever, cough and/or shortness of breath, and/or other respiratory symptoms.
At an initial drive-up station, people will be asked about symptoms, then either be cleared to leave or sent to a walk-up tent to be screened for illness.
The city has appropriated funding for the center with the hope of reimbursement from county and state public health agencies.
The center is made possible through a city partnership with Menlo Park-based Avellino Lab USA Inc., a company that specializes in "gene therapy and molecular diagnostics with a focus in precision medicine for eye care."
The laboratory will analyze the tests and "Results can be available in as little as six hours or the next day in most cases."
Finnie said Avellino is a civic-minded company that is supplying the tests "at a very, very good price" and is also looking for similar partnerships with other jurisdictions to open additional centers.
He said officials from Fremont were assessing the Hayward center on Sunday.
Menlo fire begins pandemic response unit
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District now has a Pandemic Emergency Response Unit staffed by a two-person team. The unit is tasked with taking calls of suspected COVID-19 cases, according to a press release issued Saturday.
The district recently received seven calls of suspected COVID-19 in one day and expects to see that number go up.
Staff assigned to the unit will utilize the "highest level of Emergency Medical Services" and personal protective equipment. The district said they will aim to minimize contact with whoever may have COVID-19 while on a call to decrease possible exposure to the disease.
They will also be responsible for decontaminating each scene they visit and fire apparatus used on the call to prevent traces of the virus on equipment, clothing and/or the apparatus as outlined by district guidelines.
"We believe that by raising the bar on our personal protective clothing and by putting this new special response unit in place, we can slow or help to hopefully more effectively stop its spread," Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in the press release.
Some fire district personnel have volunteered to serve on the unit, he said.
"The number of our off-duty firefighters grew again today, as yet another Menlo Park Firefighter, the seventh, was home sick and scheduled for testing.
"At some point, we know one of our firefighters will contract COVID-19," Schapelhouman added, "most are not in the risk categories and all are extremely healthy and fit based upon the daily expectations of our profession, but our collective goal is to delay, or stop, spread for as long as possible."
Increasing health care capacity
To create more space at hospitals, Santa Clara County has teamed up with the U.S. Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response to establish a temporary Federal Medical Station at the Santa Clara Convention Center to accommodate up to 250 people, according to a statement issued Saturday. The station will be managed by the federal office to serve patients in need of short-term, subacute care and do not have COVID-19. It will be equipped with beds, supplies and medicines, according to the county.
The station, being developed with federal, state and local agencies, is expected to help make more acute hospital beds available.
Chavez said Sunday that the county is considering other sites besides the convention center for coronavirus response efforts but didn't offer any specific details.
The state can also increase capacity at clinics, mobile health care units and adult day care facilities as part of its COVID-19 response under an executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday. In addition, local governments are allowed to work with retired employees in addressing the public health crisis. The order also "reinforces the importance of the delivery of food, medicine and emergency supplies," according to a press release from the governor's office. To read a copy of the order, visit gov.ca.gov.
Reporting violations and fraud
On Saturday, Santa Clara County announced an updated resource for the public to report nonessential businesses they see operating in violation of the shelter-at-home order, which was issued on Tuesday and will last through April 7.
The public can notify the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office of such breaches at a new phone number, 408-792-2300. Callers can leave a voicemail in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice is encouraging people to report suspected fraud schemes related to the coronavirus by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or by sending an email to email@example.com. So far there have been reports of individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online; phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; malicious websites and apps that appear to share virus-related information to gain and lock access to devices until payment is received; and people seeking donations for illegitimate or nonexistent charities, according to the department.
Shelter at home orders
Last week started off with the announcement of a shelter-at-home order for most of the Bay Area and ended with a similar mandate extending throughout the state, actions taken in response to the growing coronavirus crisis.
On Monday, March 16, public health leaders from six Bay Area counties joined together to announce the shelter-at-home order for their respective jurisdictions. The measure limits the public to essential activities, such as health care operations; businesses that provide food, shelter and social services; and other necessities.
The state followed suit through its own order announced Thursday night by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pointed to more than 1,030 confirmed cases and 18 deaths across California as factors in the decision.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.