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San Diego hospitals are gearing up for surge of COVID-19 patients. Are they ready?

The number of COVID-19 patients is doubling every week at Scripps Health hospitals.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County hospitals are gearing up for an expected surge in COVID-19 patients. Hospitals need to have more beds, ventilators, personal protective gear, and health care workers.

Still, the COVID-19 outlook from the people who run our local hospitals seems to be surprisingly optimistic.

“We're cautiously optimistic that we have flattened the curve in the state and the county and at this point, we're in no danger of running out of resources,  but we're obviously monitoring the situation closely,” said Christopher Longhurst, the assistant chief medical officer for UC San Diego Health.

That optimism, of course, depends on people staying at home.

“I guess I would reiterate the importance of not going on spring break and really decreasing the amount of elective travel and staying inside your homes when possible,” said Longhurst.

Scripps Health has about 75 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals right now.  That number is doubling every week, according to its CEO. To make room for more patients, Scripps Health is canceling elective surgeries.

“So, for example, I had a minor procedure scheduled for one of my fingers, and it was canceled because it's clearly not something that needs to be done right away,” said Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health CEO.

Tents are set up outside most local hospitals to screen for COVID-19

“Right now, we're not allowing patients that have symptoms of COVID-19 to go directly into the hospital.  We encourage them to call.  We actually meet them in their cars and then we will bring them into the hospital if they need hospital care,” said Van Gorder.

The chief medical officer at Palomar Health said testing for COVID-19 is getting faster.

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“We have sped up our testing. We've gone from five-day testing to same-day testing for our in-house patients,” said Oman Khawaja, the chief medical officer for Palomar Health.

Local hospitals also need to add more workers. Palomar Health will consider calling on medical students and retired doctors, as long as those people are not put at risk.

“When you are talking about people who are recently retired or who may have retired four or five years ago, I think you have to have a conscientious discussion with that person about what is the risk to them,” said Khawaja.

County officials released new numbers Tuesday showing 136 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in local hospitals. That number could increase to 7,000 by late April or May, according to coronavirus modeling done by San Diego County.