East Bay Hospitals Delay Elective Surgeries During COVID-19 Surge

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Health officials from Kaiser Permanente and John Muir Health medical facilities in the East Bay said Sunday their four hospitals are ready for a surge of COVID-19 coronavirus patients, and in fact expect an "accelerated spread" of cases in the coming weeks.

To help ensure there are enough beds and enough staff to handle the anticipated surge, executives from both Kaiser and John Muir said during an hour-long telephone news conference Sunday that, starting Monday, there will be a moratorium of at least two weeks on elective surgeries at their four East Bay hospitals. They also implored people with only mild symptoms of what could be coronavirus not to inundate emergency rooms, but to instead call their primary-care doctors first.

"We prefer that people with mild-to-moderate symptoms to not go to the emergency room -- we don't have that capacity," said Dr. Russell Rodriguez, medical director of John Muir Health's emergency departments. John Muir Health operates hospitals in Walnut Creek and Concord.

Rodriguez and Marty Ardron, Kaiser's senior vice president and area manager of health giant's Diablo Service Area covering east and central Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley area of Alameda County, both said their medical teams have been performing drills to be ready for a patient surge.

 "We're confident we can handle the load of treating these patients ... while keeping doctors and patients safe," Ardron said.

Both Ardron and Rodriguez, as well as health officials from Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, said there are enough COVID-19 tests available for patients who are showing serious symptoms - fever, cough, breathing problems - that are hallmarks of coronavirus. And they're glad to have them, as they all said they expect a surge of patients in the next several weeks - even if 85 percent of confirmed cases are considered "mild."

"We're still trying to really understand what the fatality rate is," said Dr. Erica Pan, Alameda County's health officer. "As testing expands, we'll know more.

Pan said the latest confirmed coronavirus patient count as of Sunday afternoon stood at seven, which she said is expected to rise either late Sunday or early Monday.

In Contra Costa County, as of Sunday afternoon, there have been 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, Contra Costa's deputy health officer, said more than half of those appear to have contracted it through "community spread," from unknown sources and not from known ones like a cruise ship or from one's spouse.

He and others at Sunday's news conference stressed that the primary battle for most people is not to keep from getting sick, but to not infect the vulnerable populations - people over age 65, those with underlying medical conditions, or both - with the virus that may cause only mild symptoms in younger, healthier folks. To that end, Pan said, there likely will soon be stricter guidelines governing person-to-person contact in long-term-care facilities.

It's a balance, Pan said, maintaining the proper distance between people to minimize virus transmission and still enabling provision of essential services.

Radhakrishna applauded the closure of almost all East Bay public schools starting this coming week, but said the next step must be for those kids not to mix with seniors, or with other kids, for that matter.

But he said these seemingly drastic steps are necessary, and the sooner the better.

"We wouldn't ask for them if it wasn't crucial," Radhakrishna said.

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