'10 times worse': Santa Clara County health care system under unprecedented strain

COVID cases are spiking and resources are stretched to the limit in Santa Clara County. The situation prompted officials to plead for the public’s help in stemming the current viral surge.
 
Each day, the county reports more than 1,000 new COVID-positive cases and at least 100 new hospitalizations.
 
"It is ten times worse than what we had before," said Santa Clara County COVID-19 Health Preparedness Director Dr. Amad Kamal. "January is by far the most challenging month we’ve had."
 
ICU Capacity, or available bed space, has sunk to 8% county-wide. There is a short supply of staffers to handle the growing caseload. 
 
"We’re not the frontline. We’re the last line. We need everyone’s support so we can continue fighting with everyone here," said Dr. Jeff Chen, emergency room chief at Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
 
Experts said a convergence of factors is creating a "COVID-tsunami," which threatens to swamp South Bay health care providers.
 
"The number of people with the virus is increasing. And therefore, just the number of contact points between people with the virus and people without the virus is increasing," said Dr. Mark Schwartz, a San Jose State University biotechnologist.
 
He said mingling and traveling during the holidays has increased coronavirus transmission rates. And viruses historically spread more easily in winter. Add to that a new UK strain that’s trying to take hold.
 
"You’ve got a perfect storm. So this potentially more infectious variant coincides with an already terrible winter surge, and things are continuing to get worse," said Dr. Jake Scott, an infectious diseases expert at Stanford University School of Medicine. Added County Counsel James Williams, "We are extraordinarily concerned about what might be coming in the next few weeks."
 
Officials said the key to stemming the surge, and perhaps saving the integrity of health care is for people to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing, and wash or sanitize hands.
 
"I think it’s not too late for that. In fact, if we don’t do that, I think you’d see an even more rapid expansion of the virus," said Schwartz.
 
Experts said vaccinations will also halt the COVID-19 progression. However, because the two leading drugs require two shots weeks apart, it may not be until summer before enough people are vaccinated to have a meaningful impact.