Led by Chancellor Sam Hawgood and UCSF Health CEO Mark Laret, the online town hall meeting Friday afternoon — watched by more than 6,500 people — gave insights into how UCSF Health is making COVID-19 tests more available.

The end of our first shelter-in-place workweek is now, for most of us, here. Though, as community spread of the coronavirus continues to grow, both here in the Bay Area and throughout the country, anxieties over the pandemic rise. Today’s video town hall organized by UCSF Health officials quelled some of those worries — but, by no means, mitigated the severity of the health crisis at hand.

“First off, I would like to applaud the [City of San Francisco’s] response to the health crisis,” Hawgood says. “I’ve been in contact with Senators Feinstein and Pelosi [sic] today, and they both applauded UCSF and the [City of San Francisco’s] responses to the crisis.”

“The nation is looking at us,” he adds.

Starting promptly at 4 p.m., the following hour-plus conversation ran the gamut of coronavirus-related updates — beyond just UCSF Health’s medical centers and clinics.

“There are a confirmed 260,000 cases of COVID-19 across the globe,” one UCSF Health official added, “It took a few months for [the world] to reach the 100,00 caseload milestone, but just twelve days to hit the 200,000 case marker.”

In San Francisco alone, UCSF Health stated that the city now has a confirmed 76 cases, with that number likely to grow "exponentially" in the weeks to come. Currently, over 500 COVID-19-positive patients have been confirmed in the Bay Area.

“We’re considering the fact that if [the United States] becomes like Italy, we’ll be vastly underprepared and need more intensive care beds than we have,” Laret acknowledged. “We’re already anticipating an influx of COVID patients, so we’re preparing.”

Laret announced that certain “non-emergency” surgeries have either been canceled or delayed to make room for the boost in COVID-19 patients. They will also open up more intensive care beds available at various in-network centers and hospitals. Adrienne Green, the UCSF chief medical officer for the UCSF Medical Center, announced the opening of an acute respiratory care division, which may be expanded.

Another positive? At least this whole ordeal is unifying both the UCSF medical community and other SF hospitals and clinics, many of which were considered “competition,” if it weren’t for the current situation.

“We’re working closely with the UCSF community and [other San Francisco hospital and medical centers], and we’re all united in tackling this together,” one UCSF staff member emphasized.

It was made known during the town hall that seven UCSF employees had proven positive for the coronavirus, all deemed the result of community spread. None of those infections came from patient exposures.

To mitigate the risk of unnecessary vulnerability to the pathogen, the City of San Francisco has, as of earlier today, tightened rules on visitations at both medical and mental health centers throughout the city. For example: Those who wish to see an ailing friend or family member at a UCSF Health center or clinic can not, under most circumstances, stand by their bedside.

Those denied a visit to someone at a UCSF medical center will be handed a letter as to why they weren’t permitted to do so.

Similar isolation measures were taken elsewhere through UCSF Health. Ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients are instructed to avoid emergency rooms – “unless absolutely necessary” — and medical screenings done through video-chat should be done whenever possible. In fact, UCSF Health has gone from conducting only 2 percent of its medical screenings via video call… to now 50 percent over the past week.

Perhaps to the shock of no one reading this, UCSF Health is also desperately low on personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We have about two weeks left of PPE stock before [UCSF Health] runs out,” Professor and Director at UCSF Clinical Microbiology Laboratory Stephen Miller notes. UCSF Health is actively taking donations of PPE stock — N95 masks, glove wear, disposable paper robes — at their campuses. And, as some locals noted, even the student body has come out in droves to gather needed supplies.

Courtesy of Facebook via Tony Mueller

A supply shortage is also a limiting factor that’s bottlenecking city-wide COVID-19 testing. While Miller noted medical centers are “ramping up” their capacity to test for coronavirus, a worldwide shortage of swabs and vials “that contain needed mediums” will hamper examination, though not cease it. Around 90 COVID-19 tests are being conducted daily, according to Miller.

All UCSF officials involved in the town hall took special note to invite all of us to do our part in flattening the curve, a term now popularized for decreasing the spread of the novel respiratory virus.

“Avoid all international travel, and please try to stay inside whenever you can,” a UCSF Health administrator said in closing. “These [UCSF Health actions and updates] are all to help flatten the curve.”

By softening the slope of the pandemic’s ben is, truly, our only hope in avoiding what seems like an almost certain catastrophe waiting in the wings.

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Image: Screenshot via Zoom