'Going to be hard': Bay Area doctors prepare for hospital surge as COVID-19 cases increase

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As COVID-19 cases surge throughout California, hospital capacity has begun to diminish. But, there is still hope and space, especially in the Bay Area.

"We are gearing up for a very tough winter," said the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Chris Colwell.

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Dr. Colwell says the next six to eight weeks could be difficult.

"A few weeks ago, we were down to only two patients in the hospital and nobody in the ICU, and this week we've had as many as 14 in the hospital and four in the ICU," he said.

The good news - only 3% of occupied ICU beds in San Francisco are COVID-19 patients, and city hospitals still have plenty of capacity - 550 open beds.

But Sutter Health, which has hospitals and medical facilities throughout Northern California, is seeing a more significant surge in the Central Valley and Sacramento area.

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"It's almost as though the virus is travelling very rapidly up the I-5," said Dr. Bill Isenberg, who oversees safety for all of Sutter, and wants people to stay home.

"My wife and I are going to celebrate Thanksgiving alone this year," explained Dr. Isenberg.

"I think it's important that all of us take on that responsibility of being sure that we don't run any risks that aren't necessary."

While the curve is trending up again, Dr. Isenberg says doctors have learned enough about treating the virus to reduce average hospital stays for COVID-19 patients from 20 days to 8 days.

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"Implementing the use of Remdesivir, using high-flow oxygen rather than intubation, and now more recently adding in steroids, has been incredibly beneficial in really shortening the length of stay for our patients."

Dr. Colwell says he's encouraged by the Bay Area's previous efforts to flatten curve.

"We will get through this. We are as well prepared in San Francisco as we ever have been, and I would argue as prepared as anyone in the country," said Dr. Colwell.

"We really need to put our heads down and stay with it because we're now in a critically important time."

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