South Bay hospitals brace for expected COVID-19 surge related to holiday travel

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Health officials in Santa Clara County reported 1,715 new COVID-19 cases on Monday afternoon, bringing the total to 66,270 since the start of the pandemic. The staggering numbers are concerning as the county braces for an anticipated spike in the coming weeks due to holiday travel.

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"This level of hospitalizations has never happened during my career," said Gloria de la Merced, an administrator at Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, which has no ICU beds available. "Every day we see the seriousness of this disease."

The LatinX community has been hardest hit and represents more than half of all cases, while being only a quarter of the county's population. Within this group, officials point to multi-generational housing as well as a larger number of service workers as contributing factors to the spread of the virus.

"If the number of people with COVID-19 continues to rise, very soon all of our hospitals will be out of beds and we'll no longer be able to support each other," added de la Merced.

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As thousands of residents return home from non-essential travel over the holidays, county officials are urging them to get tested during the second half of their mandatory 10-day quarantine to account for the incubation period. Residents should also be tested by their healthcare provider first, before choosing to sign up through the county, which now has the capacity to test up to 20,000 people on a daily basis.

"You still have to wear your mask, you still have to social distance, and follow all of the prevention guidelines that we've talked about," said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer. "It won't be until nearly 70 or 80% of the population is vaccinated that we can probably decrease the amount of activities around prevention."

This all comes as thousands of doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are scheduled to be delivered to hospitals throughout the region this week. At Stanford Health Care, nearly a third of its 30,000-person workforce has now been inoculated, which includes residents and fellows who are working on the front lines.

"We're all in this together and we're trying to make sure that patients that need our help are getting it," said Dr. Robert Harrington, chair of Stanford's department of medicine. "We're also trying to take care of the heart attacks, the strokes, the patients with cancer, so there's still a lot of other care that's going on."

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