Hard-hit Santa Clara County prepares to manage more COVID-19 patients, leaders detail response

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Hard-hit Santa Clara County is preparing for more COVID-19 cases.

"Surge capacity is clearly what we're working on vigorously right now," Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Jeff Smith told reporters. "We're pushing people to socially distance to give us time to do the surge capacity increase, and then be able then to deal with the really sick people."

Surge capacity relates to the county's readiness to handle more patients.

This week alone, a bombshell projection was made by San Jose's Deputy City Manager, Kip Harkness.

Based on a European model, Harkness suggested 2,000 people across the county could die of COVID-19 by June.

County leaders have since disputed those numbers.

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"Statistics can be misleading because they're based on presumptions and they don't predict the future," Dr. Smith said. "They don't tell us what's going to happen to you as an individual. What's going to happen to you as an individual is going to depend on what you do and what's in your control."

Dr. Smith announced the county is contracting with Stanford to study what factors affect infection within the region, to come up a better idea of what we can expect.

"So that we can come up with internal projections that give us a better idea- not of what the different treatment is, but of what we can expect in the future," he explained.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Smith joined county supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, and Sheriff Laurie Smith.

"We've lost 20 members of our community to this virus, and I want to just say to all the families and friends who've lost someone or who are one of the hundreds of people who are in our hospitals how sorry we are," Supervisor Chavez explained. "And that the whole community is pulling for you."

"In all likelihood, this virus has been around in our county since December," Dr. Smith said. "Rather than treating it as a potential pandemic, the federal government treated it as a regional problem, and basically put out directives to the Public Health Departments in the nation to only test people who had contact- or known contact- with China or other individuals who had the disease."

Now, the rush is on to prepare.

"The reason we're really so concerned is that we have a health system- not just the county system, but all of the hospitals and health delivery systems in the county that have limitations," Smith told ABC7 News.

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He explained while they aren't "hard" limitations, he'd compare the system to filling up a water balloon.

"It's more elastic, you can change things," he described. "You can get more beds, you can get more ventilators, you can set up more beds for ICU care. You can get more nurses, more doctors. But if you have a big spike like we had in the Spanish Flu, that overwhelms things pretty rapidly."

Smith said that by flattening the curve, the public allows the health system to take care of those who are most ill.

In doing so, Smith said it would be both an effective and efficient way to keep those who are in better condition out of the hospitals, at home and quarantined, until they get healthy.

He said, "The number of beds available at this point is sufficient. We can go on with the explosion of the disease as it's been going on, but we are in the active process, working with all of the hospitals to develop more surge capacity."

Smith explained actions involve talking with health centers within the community, and skilled nursing facilities. Essentially, the county is looking for any place they can set up, that can accommodate health issues along the entire spectrum of need.

"Not just ICU care," he said. "But the entire spectrum."

The Santa Clara Convention Center will be transformed into a temporary federal medical station, able to hold up to 250 COVID-19 patients.

"A respite station that we set up in the Santa Clara Convention Center for infected individuals who don't need in-patient care," Smith said. "But who do need some services, they can be seen there."

Smith confirmed 500 ventilators are on the way to the South Bay.

"Some from the State, some from the Feds, some that we purchased," he said. "They also have surge plans. We're converting step-down units to ICU units, we're hiring nurses. We've got offers, just in the county, out to 119 clinical nurses, waiting for them to accept them."

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The county admitted preparation is needed on all levels.

In partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Supervisor Chavez explained the county has several relief funds in place.

"There are three funds there: Fund one is a small business relief fund. Fund 2 goes through Destination Home and it's to make sure that anyone who is at-risk of becoming homeless or doesn't have access to money for food or any of those things can get to that fund. Then Fund three is for non-profits," Chavez explained. "The County of Santa Clara contributed $2-million to the Destination Home Fund, and $1-million to supporting non-profits- because as you know, a lot of non-profits have their events this time of year. They can do none of that right now because we're social distancing."

Chavez detailed a fourth fund- the Valley Medical Center Foundation.

"We've been raising money in partnership with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and getting supplies to VMC that we're sharing not only with the public hospitals that we have here, but all of our clinics," she said.

At Friday's press conference, Chavez explained, "The Destination Home Fund at last count had $11-million in it. The non-profit fund had about $1.5-million in it," Chavez said.

The $11-million Destination Home Fund has received 4,400 applications in its first three days, according to Sacred Heart Community Service.

Sacred Heart is the lead agency managing the fund. A spokesperson shared that in order to disperse the funds in a way that is going to be meaningful, the agency had to cut off applications.

Meantime, Sacred Heart is adding people to an "interest" list, to be contacted when more funds are made available.

"Let me say, the need is so great that the destination home fund needs more money," Chavez said.

The county encourages the public to donate.

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