Santa Clara County makes plan for more hospital beds as COVID-19 spreads

Santa Clara County officials say they’re making plans for a projected surge in hospitalizations due to coronavirus just as deaths across the county reached double digits and infections rose by 106 cases in the last two days.

As of Sunday night, 10 people had died from the virus, up from eight on Friday, and the total number of confirmed cases reached 302 people, according to officials.

The two who died over the weekend included a woman in her 60s and a woman in her 40s. Both women had prior medical issues, according to Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

A county spokeswoman has also tested positive for COVID-19.

María Leticia Gómez, who works as the county’s director of communications and public affairs, became ill on March 13 and was tested for COVID-19 by her health care provider. On Sunday, she received her results and tested positive. Gómez has been isolated at home since she first showed symptoms and is doing well, officials said.

Notably, the number of cases are without the context of the number of people in the county who have been tested. County officials have demurred each time they’ve been asked for a count of the total number of tests given. On Friday, a Santa Clara County spokesperson told San José Spotlight the information wasn’t available.

Statewide, there have been 1,468 confirmed cases as of Saturday with 27 reported deaths.

Planning for a ‘surge’

Newsom last week made a stir when he announced the state was projecting that about 56 percent of the population in California, or around 25.5 million people, could become infected with the virus. About 20 percent of those cases are expected to need hospitalization.

If those projections are accurate, hospitals around the state will be short on beds and supplies, Newsom said.

Now, Santa Clara County officials are ramping up resources to deal with a potential influx of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, those officials said Sunday afternoon during a news conference.

The Santa Clara Convention Center could become a temporary federal hospital with up to 250 beds for patients with noninfectious diseases, officials said. That would help free up beds in the local hospitals for coronavirus patients.

To bulk up on hospital staff, hospitals are bringing back retired health care professionals, said Paul Lorenz, CEO of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Officials are also working with organizations to recruit other professionals, as well as looking at state and federal governments for staff support, if needed.

“We are looking at a number of different avenues that the resources and demands should necessitate,” Lorenz said.

Meanwhile, state, local and business leaders have launched a fundraiser to drum up equipment and safety supplies for local hospitals. Medical professionals in Santa Clara County are facing shortages of such supplies and have put out pleas for donations as more people arrive at the hospital with symptoms of the fast-spreading virus.

Residents and businesses can donate to that drive by going to The Valley Medical Center Foundation at 2400 Clove Drive in San Jose between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or by visiting the Valley Medical Center Foundation website.

Testing breakthroughs

But by all accounts whatever the testing rate was before, it is increasing.

Stanford is working its way to testing as many as 1,000 samples a day, Newsom said last week.

At the same time, Verily — owned by Mountain View-based Alphabet — rolled out its own by-appointment testing in the Bay Area for high-risk people.

Then, over the weekend Sunnyvale-based molecular diagnostics company Cepheid got what’s known as “Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)” from the FDA to roll out its own COVID-19 test.

The company says its tests can offer a result within about 45 minutes on machines that already exist and are in operation around the world. About 5,000 of the machines are in the U.S., and the company intends to start sending tests out in the coming week.

“During this time of increased demand for hospital services, clinicians urgently need an on-demand diagnostic test for real-time management of patients being evaluated for admission to health-care facilities,” Dr. David Persing, Cepheid’s chief medical and technology officer, said in a statement. “An accurate test delivered close to the patient can be transformative — and help alleviate the pressure that the emergence of the 2019-nCoV (COVID-19) outbreak has put on healthcare facilities that need to properly allocate their respiratory isolation resources.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Eduardo Cuevas contributed to this report.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter. Contact Eduardo Cuevas at eduardomcuevas@gmail.com or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.

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