COVID-19 outbreak: SF doctors report 1st Christmas related cases, hospitals prepare for post holiday surge

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The holidays are over, but now Bay Area doctors are reporting the first COVID-19 cases from Christmas gatherings.

It's a new year, but the Thanksgiving surge has spilled over into 2021 and now medical doctors are holding their breath to see a week after Christmas what another surge could potentially look like

"We are still seeing the Thanksgiving numbers and that is really why is so frightening. We haven't seen Christmas numbers yet and we haven't seen New Year's for sure," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, UCSF's Infectious Disease specialist.

An increase of cases after three holidays all at once could mean extreme stress to the medical system. UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong says they are still waiting on more data.

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Los Angeles County reported another 20,414 new cases of COVID-19 and 207 additional deaths Friday, although 40 of the deaths were from a backlog associated with a Spectrum outage and holiday reporting delays.



"That's because a lot of people are closed for the holidays in terms of labs so they are not reporting these numbers until people open back up next week. So, what will happen probably next week is a huge bump in cases," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

In March, medical experts met to discuss a response plan for an unprecedented rise in cases. Dr. Peter Chin-Hong says those meetings equipped them for what could take place in the upcoming weeks.

"We were all meeting deciding how to split ventilators, did we have enough ventilators in the region and how to make some of these tough decisions about who to get into the hospital in the ICU and who not to depending on whether or not they'll make it. I'm afraid that we are going to have to use some of those decision rules that were divided by these groups early on in two weeks or so," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

At Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Colwell says this week they've experienced the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the last 10 months with 52 cases at the peak.

"So it was a predictable pattern of 10 days to 2 weeks where you'll see people starting to get sick, symptoms, 5 days after the holidays," said Dr. Christopher Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg SF General Hospital and Trauma Center.

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Dr. Colwell reported the first COVID-19 cases from Christmas gatherings this week and began implementing their surge plan.

"We opened a new floor that was just for COVID patients and it meant that we are more limited in terms of any elective procedures and surgeries are going to be more limited to truly those urgent and emergent surgeries," said Dr. Colwell.

As the Chief of Zuckerberg General Hospitals Emergency Medicine, Dr. Colwell is concerned about the impact another potential surge could have on his staff.



"Much of my time now is trying to address that issue with all of our staff who have been doing this for 10 months and quite honestly we are all exhausted," said Dr. Colwell.

What gives both of these medical experts hope in the middle of a surge is a vaccine, "There is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is wonderful news as we enter 2021 and there is hope," said Dr. Colwell.

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