San Francisco Bay Area hospitals preparing triage centers, 'gearing up for battle' amid coronavirus surge

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Hospitals across the Bay Area are preparing triage centers to accommodate a possible influx of patients as COVID-19 cases surge across the state.

"You gear up...it feels like you're gearing up for battle," said Dr. Andra Blomkalns.

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According to an ABC7 data analysis, several counties inched closer to a new daily record of COVID-19 patients reported since the beginning of the July surge. There have been 36 new coronavirus hospitalizations reported in the last 24 hours - a majority in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties. The number is not topping the state's list, but it's one of the highest spikes flagged in the Bay Area in recent weeks.

"I have not been in the military, I have not been in war, however it feels that way," said Blomkalns.

Dr. Blomkalns is the Dept. of Emergency Medicine Chair at Stanford. The hospital and ICU currently have sufficient capacity but are preparing how to ration care if the surge becomes overwhelming.

"At that point it becomes a prioritization based on morbidity, fortunately we haven't been there and we hope to never be there," she said.

Among other hospitals in Bay Area, Stanford's ER Department is also preparing triage centers.

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"We will probably start having to open those up shortly after Thanksgiving because I predict some people will not be able to resist the urge to meet with family," she said. "I suspect that spike will happen a week or two after Thanksgiving."

Photos provided by Stanford Medicine, shown in the video posted at the top of this page, give a glimpse of what the centers will look like.

According to Blomkalns, Stanford's ER will be able to open up portions of their parking garage and transform waiting rooms into facilities for ICU patients.

"Within the walls, we have oxygen and suction and all the things we'd need if we'd have to line up the waiting room," she said.

According to state data, both Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties have double the number of COVID-19 patients than ICU beds available right now. But, Dr. Blomkalns explained that likely won't become a problem.

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"It's important to understand there is a spectrum," she said. "In this most recent surge we've noticed a lot more people had the disease, but weren't necessarily at that very sick stage."

Aside from Stanford, John Muir Health is adding a mobile treatment center outside their Concord Medical Center ER to help with triaging patients, in addition to their Walnut Creek Medical Center ER to help with waiting room capacity and social distancing. Both are being put in place to help with a potential surge.

In San Francisco, the Presidio Field hospital is ready to go if hospitals become overwhelmed, according to the health department. The space is not being used yet, but can accommodate close to 100 patients if needed.

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UCSF Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adrienne Green explained the hospital has plenty of capacity, but is also preparing for what's to come.

"We have plans divided up by area, for critical care, emergency department, etc." she said. "Each has an individualized plan on how we will work to accommodate both COVID patients and non-COVID patients."

ABC7 reached out the Governor's office to see if the California National Guard will be deployed to assist with triage centers in areas hit hard across the state. We have yet to hear back.

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