Bay Area hospitals preparing for COVID-19 patient surge

As California sees a steep rise in COVID-19 cases, several Bay Area hospitals are taking measures to make sure they’re prepared for an influx of patients including canceling surgeries, repositioning staff and not allowing visitors in some waiting rooms.

There were more than 5,516 hospitalizations statewide Thursday, an increase of 318 patients from the previous day, according to California Department of Public Health data.

Doctors at major medical centers say the uptick is only a quarter of what it was during last winter’s surge but warn hospitalizations often lag roughly two weeks behind a rapid rise in cases.

"I think we’re going to be very busy, unfortunately," said Dr. Michael Vollmer, infectious disease physician with Kaiser Permanente. "The virus continues to throw curveball that even the people with the best predictive models couldn’t have forecast."

With the omicron variant driving cases to record-breaking levels, Kaiser and UCSF hospital systems both say they’re prepared by getting beds, supplies and critical gear ready to go.

Already, several emergency rooms have seen more patients, especially among the unvaccinated and even children.

"There has been an increase in pediatric hospitalizations," UCSF Professor of Epidemiology Dr. George Rutherford said. "Not unexpectedly but it’s something we would like to be able to turn off, if we could."

He said part of the problem is the virus is so infectious and transmissible.

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Hospitalizations have risen sharply in some counties with the majority in southern California. In the Bay Area, Contra Costa County saw a considerable jump from 56 to 71 patients in the hospital as of Thursday.

At John Muir Health, which has hospitals in Concord and Walnut Creek, the problem is not having enough beds to handle the increasing patients. Instead, the worry is not having enough doctors, nurses and health care workers to provide care.

"We have a large number of staff either out with mild COVID symptoms or with exposures awaiting testing," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Rodriguez. "That has really led us to have to limit some of our services."

In some cases, staff is being repositioned to areas where there are shortages, according to Rodriguez.

The hospitals are not allowing new non-urgent surgeries or lab tests to happen and all elective surgeries have been canceled. Additionally, visitors are not allowed in hospital waiting rooms.

"Given a lot of patients are coming in with COVID-like symptoms, we don’t want our waiting rooms to be inundated with potentially infectious patients and visitors," he said.

Health experts say go back to the basics including masking, washing, vaccinating and boosting to keep the hospital wave from rising.

Even with increasing infections, doctors say it’s not a time to panic, especially with shorter hospital stays and milder symptoms.

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Oftentimes, patient numbers don’t adequately reflect who’s in the hospital specifically for the virus versus those who happen to have COVID-19.

Rutherford said a patient who is hospitalized for an auto wreck, elective procedure or a pregnancy can learn they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus during an initial screening.

"You may have no symptoms at all," he said. "I think that’s what some portion of this [increase in hospitalizations] is. That’s really hard to sort out."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU