UCSF Critical Care Doctors Push for Worker Masks

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A group of 90 University of California San Francisco critical care doctors and pulmonologists met this week and agreed to push for more hospital worker protections against the COVID-19 virus, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned.

The experts, on Monday, convened electronically and agreed to call on UCSF hospital administrators to issue surgical masks to all hospital staff in lieu of scarce N95 respiratory masks.

Right now, workers in direct contact with those under treatment are issued N95 masks, while other health care workers are not provided any masks.

UCSF doctors staff the city’s Veterans Affairs hospital as well as San Francisco General, and hospitals on UCSF’s Mission Bay and Parnassus Heights campuses.

“All workers at these hospitals should be wearing surgical masks -- to protect themselves, and to protect the patients -- because right now we don’t know who does or who doesn’t have COVID-19,’’ said UCSF pulmonologist Dr. John Balmes.

Balmes, who was among the critical care doctors urging the action,  said while surgical masks may not be very effective in preventing workers from getting the virus, they will at least work to keep workers from infecting patients and colleagues.

Jennifer Esteen, a San Francisco General nurse and union organizer, welcomes improved worker protection, but worries shortages could get in the way of any mandate by UCSF or the Public Health Department.

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“I don’t think the department is going to say no to it, the question is how can they? Do they have enough supplies to go along with this very smart recommendation?”

UCSF officials said Tuesday they have not formally received such a request from critical care doctors but have been getting donations of needed supplies. Public Health officials – who oversee SF General – said they would be willing to consider such a request.  

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