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UCSF ER Relatively ‘Quiet’, Flattening the Curve is Working in SF, For Now

Updated: Apr 20, 2020 11:23
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UCSF, along with many medical facilities across the nation, have set up screening tents outside facilities.  Photo taken March 24th, 2020.

We spoke with a UCSF Emergency Room Doctor in San Francisco during his shift Tuesday afternoon (3/24). Standing in front of the temporary Covid-19 screening tents in the UCSF Parnassus parking lot, the Doctor described his ER as being relatively ‘quiet’ with about half of the average patients it usually has on a normal day without a pandemic.  In an Emergency Room that typically sees 150-200 total patients on an average day, (50-60 in a typical afternoon) on Tuesday afternoon there were only 31 patients being treated.  Roughly 10-12 patients at UCSF were related to Covid-19.

We followed up today (Wednesday 3/25) and the situation is much the same.

The shelter in place order has made the hospital far quieter than it normally would be. People are not out outside getting sick, or having accidents, so they are not currently turning up in the Emergency room. So far the attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ and prevent a huge surge of Covid-19 infections all at once, appears to be working in San Francisco.

UCSF Parnassus intake entrance, San Francisco.

 “We were just on the phone with colleagues in New York City, they are intubating a couple new patients an hour. and rapidly running out ventilators and supplies, there is a very, serious spike of infections happening there now.” The ER Doctor said.

New York currently has +10k confirmed cases of Covid 19 and that number is surging, compared to 2k confirmed cases in California (as of 3/25/2020).

In San Francisco, medical data shows that compared to New York, the Bay Area has ‘flattened the curve’ of new cases.

Data & Chart provided by  We checked with our UCSF contact and the above chart figures matches what they are seeing on the ground in the ER.


UCSF hospital Covid-19 screening station in the parking lot

Last week the Chronicle reported that Medical facilities in San Francisco ‘have enough ventilators for now’, and there are enough uninfected healthcare professionals to treat the sick.   Although medical supplies like masks and gowns are still in short supply.

The Doctor we spoke to tested negative for Coronavirus this week, and there is very good news about coronavirus testing efficiency.  At UCSF, Covid-19 testing swabs now only take 12-24 hours to get results.  And they are currently well stocked with testing swabs.  Hopefully this capability will become widespread, before the virus does.

These are what testing swabs for covid19 look like.

“We no longer have to send tests away to get results, we can do the tests here at UCSF.” Said the ER Doctor.   The testing efficiency at UCSF is now in stark contrast to our nation’s testing capabilities in the past few weeks, where tested samples needed to be sent across the country in order to be processed and would take days if not weeks to return results.

Medical experts say this does’t mean you should run down to the ER to get tested, in fact, it’s the opposite. Unless you are experiencing severe symptomsstay home.  If you perform a necessary job, (like a firefighter for example) and must leave your home to perform it, then ask your employer about getting tested.  Letting people know that they are infected is half the battle to restricting the spread of the virus, the other half is social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

Also keep in mind that the infection rate could still surge in the Bay Area.  We asked the ER Doctor what to do if you feel ‘fluish’ at home, and what to expect if you go a Covid-19 testing testing station today:

What will they ask you at a typical Covid-19 testing site:

“If you do go into an ER, they will most likely ask you if you have a fever, a new cough, or are having any difficulty breathing.  They may also ask you if you have traveled to a high risk area, and about your potential exposure to those infected with Covid 19.”

In order to test for Covid-19, medical professionals must take fluid samples from your nose & or throat.

What to do if you have mild, flu like symptoms?

“Stay home, isolate yourself.  There is no treatment for mild cases.”

What to do if you have severe symptoms?

“If you are having severe symptoms of any kind you should come in and get evaluated.  Severe symptoms means: any difficulty breathing, any inability to catch your breath or feeling ‘winded’ after small exertions.  Any painful breathing is certainly a reason to go see your healthcare provider immediately.”

Medical professionals across the bay area have been on high alert for weeks, waiting for a surge in new cases.  Although common medical supplies like masks, gowns, and faceshields are low, they are holding.  We are not out of the woods by a long shot, but for the time being we have avoided a surge in new cases and Covid-19 related fatalities.  Please continue to shelter in place, we still have a long way to go.

For general information concerning Covid-19 visit the CDC website here.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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  1. Jibber Jabber
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    I’m glad that UCSF is still doing relatively well. Yep, shelter in place all we could do, to deal with the virus. There’s test of SARS drug, but it’s still being figured out.

    Once thing we can all do right now, is to figure out the financial side of this crisis. If we don’t enact a complete halt on mortgage, loans, and rent to stay in place until a month after covid-19 crisis passes, many of us aren’t going to recover after a couple of month or more of no work & income.

    I think it would be wise to plan ahead, and demand our politicians to step up, put in a protective measures now. So that we can have a smoother transition.

    Most of us won’t be able to pay back rent, but if the mortgage and loans were frozen, then landlords and homeowners shouldn’t be burdened. And the banks can surely wait it out, it’s not like they can fail, the government have been there to bail them out.

  2. Dan "Chuck" Roth
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    So many photographs of empty screening facilities at all the hospitals in the Bay Area. Where is the surge in cases we were told to prepare for?

  3. Drock70
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    This is unconscionable and dangerous. The only hard data supporting your article is a graph found on the blog written by someone with zero background in medicine or epidemiology. You should be ashamed, apologize to your readers, and take this down immediately. Much more time and widespread testing of the general population is needed before any analysis can be made of the effectiveness of “shelter in place” in California.

    • Gloria Maciejewski
      April 20, 2020 at 7:23 am

      While I agree that the Swell article is not a sound source to reference for a few reasons, I think that the fact that doctors at UCSF are reporting it as fairly quite right now is far from unconscionable. Shelter in Place is working “FOR NOW” the article says. I think the main message should be KEEP IT UP!!! The flattening of the curve obviously did not work in NYC. Not only is NY a much denser area, but there was actually a mentality of “stand up to the scare” going around. My family there shared posts of a NYC council member encouraging people to stand up to racism by going out into crowds during Lunar New Year celebrations.

  4. tito swiñeflu
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Good article, but that chart is misleading. Comparing numbers of cases between NY and CA is meaningless. CA has tested 1/1500 people, NY has tested 1/250. NY is half as big as CA, but 2+ times as big as the bay area. That swell life article is statistical garbage.