San Jose hospitals face pressure as COVID-19 cases surge
The largest COVID-19 testing site in Northern California at the San Jose Fairgrounds administers an average 2,000 to 3,000 tests a day. Photo by Vicente Vera.

As Santa Clara County sees a surge in new COVID-19 cases, hospitals across San Jose are being stretched thin.

Many hospital officials say they’re rising to the occasion.

According to county data, 102 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Nov. 12 with about 17 new cases in the last day. There are 909 beds available for COVID-19 patients.

“Last week we were at 18 COVID patients, now we’re at 30,” said Sarah Sherwood, San Jose Regional Medical Center spokesperson.

The medical center had 11 patients who tested positive quarantined in a separate wing of the hospital for observation, she said. Sherwood, also a spokesperson for Good Samaritan Hospital, said COVID-19-patients at that hospital spiked from 2 to 10 in the past week.

As public health experts warn about taking precautions during the upcoming holiday season, Santa Clara County loosened its restrictions Oct. 13 by moving into the less-stringent orange tier. But as cases surge in the county, including an alarming uptick of 358 new cases in a day, the county could go backwards.

“We’re looking at going (back to) red here,” Sherwood said. “I wouldn’t be surprised. So we are really preparing – we’re preparing in case we go red again.”

Returning to the red tier would mean another shutdown of indoor activity at restaurants and places of worship, and more limited public gatherings.

Dr. Paul Silka, medical director of San Jose Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department, said the hospital has seen a new peak in hospitalizations over the past seven days.

“It’s hard to say it’s a new wave because we never really went back down to zero,” he said. “I would tell you any one time we always have several COVID-19 patients in the emergency department.”

Early fears of shrinking bed capacity and low supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators have greatly diminished since doctors battled the first wave of patients at the start of the pandemic, Silka said.

“It certainly wasn’t meant to be at the time, but in retrospect, it was a rehearsal for what we’re seeing now,” he said. “We’ve really tightened up our supply chain.”

Hospitalizations around the county started to taper off in May and shot up again in July, steadily declining before the recent uptick in the first week of November.

Though his fears are at bay for the moment, Silka said concern remains.

“So this may come back to haunt me, but I think we are prepared to take on this next wave or peak without going into complete disaster mode,” he said.

The county’s public hospitals are also seeing a surge.

Data provided by Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System spokesperson Joy Alexiou.

Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System spokesperson Joy Alexiou said its three hospitals — O’Connor, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and St. Louise — are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients, but not a spike.

“Our system is feeling prepared, but there are concerns about facing a significant and extraordinary surge that would result in exceeding the planned surge capacity for all hospitals within Santa Clara County,” she said.

The three hospitals had a combined 33 COVID-19-positive patients as of Nov. 12, the second highest daily number in the past month. The highest daily number, 35, was just two days earlier on Nov. 10.

Close to one-third of ICU beds are still available with less than 10% of beds occupied by patients being observed or treated for COVID-19.

“The hospitalizations are going up, but it’s a gradual increase,” Alexiou said. “The community remaining vigilant by following the public health orders and participating in surveillance testing can help to moderate the extent of the possible surge.”

Silka said one of the biggest changes San Jose Regional Medical Center and other hospitals made since March was to provide every patient with personal protective equipment.

“We just have to assume everybody that comes in has COVID-19,” he said.

While the holiday season could trigger a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Silka said “lockdown fatigue” and restriction rollbacks encourage people to go out.

“Young adults are getting out, trying to be productive and social as they would and should,” he said, “but it’s just causing more transmission of the disease.”

As hospitalizations surge in Santa Clara County, officials are doubling down on COVID-19 testing.

Northern California’s largest COVID-19 testing site at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds administers an average of more than 2,000 tests a day, said Satvir Sohi, a clinical nurse lead.

Sohi said the drive-in testing site is expecting a spike in appointments for those planning to gather for the holidays.

“We capped out on tests in August and they have been steady since,” she said. “At this site, we’re also doing both COVID-19 tests and flu shots.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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