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Months Into Pandemic, Physician Reflects on Developing Coronavirus Knowledge

In March, Dr. Monica Bhargava, a pulmonary critical care physician at the county hospital in Oakland, predicted on “Civic” that the novel coronavirus would deeply affect the region’s health care system for many months to come. That, and some of her other observations, turned out to be correct. In recent months, scientists and doctors have learned much more about how the virus spreads and what makes patients vulnerable to serious complications. Bhargava returned to “Civic” to follow up on her earlier observations and discuss how the conversations doctors, patients and whole communities are having about managing the coronavirus pandemic have changed. “A lot of my patients live five or six patients to a one-bedroom.

Mayor London Breed and a sign language interpreter at a July 22 press conference. Screen capture from SFGovTV via Zoom.

S.F. to Expand Coronavirus Testing as Cases Surge

San Francisco is conducting more than 3,000 coronavirus tests per day on average, but backlogs are developing at labs and a rising demand is making it more difficult to schedule a test. Mayor London Breed announced Wednesday that testing capacity will be expanded by about 1,400 tests per day in the coming weeks through the addition of appointment times and testing facilities. 

The CityTest facility on the Embarcadero will be adding 400 slots per day for essential workers. The city will launch two mobile pop-up testing sites with capacity of up to 250 tests per day, one of which will open this week and the other next week. Both pop-up facilities will rotate to neighborhoods where high rates of COVID-19 are detected. The city will also create a third CityTest site in a southeastern neighborhood in August, with a capacity of 500 tests per day at a yet undetermined location.

Mayor London Breed

S.F. Mayor Says Indoor Malls, Non-Essential Offices to Close

UPDATE: July 17, 2020. Adds embedded audio and timestamps to summary of key points from press conference. Mayor London Breed announced this morning at a press conference that San Francisco would roll back some of its reopenings, closing indoor malls and non-essential offices on Monday. S.F. has joined a list of  30 counties on the state watch list, due to the rapidly rising number of Covid cases. San Francisco has 4,795 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 52 deaths.

Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in S.F. Could Be Ten Times Higher by October

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health says further reopening plans remain on hold as the city sees a surge in new coronavirus infections that could lead to dire consequences in coming weeks. 

“The virus is not only still out there, it is out there more than ever before,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the department, in a press conference Wednesday. “We are working with researchers who are seeing the reproductive rate of the virus continue to climb above one. Right now we estimate that that number is approximately 1.3,” he said, referring to the R0 or “r naught,” a term used to describe the infection rate of a disease.  In this case, that would essentially mean that for every three people with the virus, four new people are becoming infected. 

Dr. Colfax said at the current rate the number of infected people needing hospital beds in San Francisco could rise tenfold by fall. “If we do not do better, we are looking at major problems by late August and September, with an average peak of 900 hospitalized patients by early October,” he said. “And just to put this in some frame of reference, on our last surge, in April, we peaked at 94 cases.”

Colfax said contact tracing is showing that the spread in San Francisco is mostly among small groups of people who know each other. 

“There’s increased activity in terms of the social gatherings that people are having,” he said.

The Department of Public Health has identified the Palace of Fine Arts as a possible location for a pop-up ward wards to be used in the event of a coronavirus surge.

S.F. Identifies Sites for Pop-Up COVID-19 Wards in Case of Surge

San Francisco has identified a handful of potential pop-up wards to be used in the event of a coronavirus surge to house nearly 500 COVID-positive patients who do not require hospitalization but who cannot recuperate on their own because of their housing status or medical conditions, the Department of Emergency Management confirmed in a series of emails last week.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Screen capture from SFGovTV

S.F. Reopening on Pause With No New Timeline Set

San Francisco officials on Tuesday announced that because coronavirus case numbers continue to climb, indoor restaurants and outdoor bars will not be permitted to reopen on July 13, a previous target date, and no new timeline has been established. For some other businesses, reopening guidance is expected by the end of the week. 

“We know that in order to protect public health, we are creating other challenges for small businesses, we are creating other challenges because we know that over 153,000 San Franciscans have filed for unemployment,” Mayor London Breed said. “We don’t make these decisions lightly.” 

The number of cases seen in San Francisco has surpassed 4,000, and 68 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. Thirteen of those patients were transferred from San Quentin State Prison, which has experienced an explosive outbreak with more than 1,400 cases. 

While hospital capacity remains good, according to city Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax, other key indicators of the city’s response to the pandemic have worsened to “high alert” status. The city is logging 6.1 new cases per 100,000 residents per day, far exceeding its goal of 1.8 or fewer.

Director of Public Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. Screen capture via Zoom.

San Franciscans Urged to Stay Home During Holiday Weekend as COVID Cases Rise

San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center Thursday urged residents to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday weekend at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Over the last two weeks, the seven-day average number of new cases in the city has more than doubled and hospitalization rose by more than 50% in the last week. As of June 29, there were 67 COVID-19 patients in city hospitals, including 18 transferred in from hot spots in Imperial and Fresno counties and San Quentin Prison in Marin County. Department of Public Health Executive Director Dr. Grant Colfax said, “The best thing to do is to stay home, celebrate with members of your household and celebrate virtually with others.”

Coronavirus Resource Guide for Vehicle Dwellers in San Francisco and Berkeley

Photojournalist Yesica Prado assembled this resource guide as part of her ongoing project examining the culture of vehicle living in San Francisco and Berkeley. CatchLight, Dysturb, The Everyday Projects and the San Francisco Public Press collaborated to produce this guide for printed posters, which are posted where vehicle dwellers would likely see them. The aim is to improve access to locally relevant public health information as part of the Artists Against an #Infodemic Initiative.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in an alley that overlooks the Everett Safe Sleeping Village. Laura Wenus / Public Press

Safe Sleeping Site Opens at School for Just Six Weeks

A few days after a new city-approved tent encampment, known as a “safe sleeping village,” had opened at Everett Middle School, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman visited the site and then took a walk around the block to see how the number of encampments had changed. The Everett site is one of three city-approved camps for homeless people to set up tents, access showers and meals, and maintain social distancing. Members of the press are not allowed inside, but “Civic” spoke with Mandelman about his observations and his hopes for the site, which will be in operation for just six weeks. We also spoke with several people at nearby encampments to see how well news of the site had gotten around. Though one man said he was happy with his place at the site and especially pleased to have access to a shower, many who remained on the street expressed distrust of the program.