As hospital capacity continues to be strained regionally and cases soar, San Mateo County Health officials warn surge bed capacity is less of a safety net than it appears without adequate staffing as the county continues to experience a post-holiday COVID-19 surge.
“We do not believe we have seen the full impact of the post holiday surge,” said Chief of Health Louise Rogers during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Continuing, Rogers notes that 33% of the county’s positive cases have occurred over the past 30 days when residents observed major holidays including Christmas. To date, more than 29,000 residents have tested positive for the virus, nearly 9,500 in the past 30-day period. The county last experienced a major surge over the Thanksgiving holiday after having experienced months of falling COVID-19 cases.
Adding to concerns is the strain many hospitals are experiencing. Over the weekend, the ICU capacity in the Bay Area fell below 1% and as of Jan. 12 in San Mateo County, only two regular staffed ICU beds were available. Currently, 199 patients are receiving care in the county, 38 in the ICU.
Addressing confusion around fluctuating ICU beds, Rogers noted that hospital staffing and scheduling directly determines capacity. Of the additional 88 surge ICU beds stationed across the county, she noted that “the barrier really is staffing.”
“Having the beds, in theory, is not the same as being able to staff for them,” she said.
While misleading, the figure is part of state collected data and helps inform officials on the number of beds that could be used if emergency staffing needs were met through the mutual aid process. At least one hospital in the county has requested and received additional staffing support, said Rogers.
During the meeting, supervisors also pressed health officials on how residents should be seeking accurate and up-to-date vaccine information, noting many of them have been inundated with inquiries.
“I just think that we really need to make it a big priority to have easily accessible information for the public,” said Supervisor Dave Pine.
Instead of calling 211 for information, residents have been directed to send their questions to an email address, COVIDvax@smcgov.org, where County Health staff will follow up with an email or phone call. Recognizing the strong interest in information around the vaccine, Rogers said the county would be partnering with trusted messengers to disseminate information and to better understand reservations residents may have around being treated.
On Wednesday, the county also hosted a virtual event to discuss the county’s vaccination efforts. While state officials recently gave the OK for counties to begin entering Phase 1B, the second of three phases in the state vaccine dissemination plan, Dr. Anand Chabra, the section chief of COVID-19 Mass Vaccination and medical director of Family Health Services said the county is not prepared to do so yet.
“In San Mateo County, we have not moved onto that phase yet,” said Chabra. “Some places in California have but we feel we’re not yet done with Phase 1A so we don’t want to move on until we really address that to the best of our ability as a community.”
Phase 1A focuses on vaccinating health care workers involved in COVID-19 care and long-term congregate facility residents and staff. Phase 1B, prioritizes those ages 65 and older as well as specific sectors at high risk of contracting the virus.
In the coming weeks, the county could begin vaccinating those who fall into the state determined Phase 1B depending on the supply of doses the county receives, Chabra said during an interview Monday. Multi-county entities will independently determine when to move into the next phase depending on the availability of doses, he said.
Large primary care providers like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Dignity Health will likely be the main issuers of vaccinations, he said, adding that the county would be responsible for vaccinating those without insurance, those who have Medical insurance and other sensitive groups.
As limited vaccine supply increases nationally and within the state, Chabra said the general public would likely see greater access by the fall.
“Until then I really ask for us all to be patient,” said Chabra. “I’m very happy that people want to be vaccinated. We just need to recognize that the supply does not yet meet the demand.”
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