Oakland emergency rooms busy as coronavirus cases could spike

Emergency room doctors and nurses in Oakland are under increasing pressure and preparing for a surge of coronavirus patients.

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center has a regularly packed parking lot of ambulances as sick patients are screened and brought in for care.

So far, doctors tell KTVU more than a dozen coronavirus patients are inside.

“Everything is being affected by COVID-19,” Dr. Rollington Ferguson, a private physician at Sutter said. “If you have a war that’s going on, there’s no good soldier that turns his or her back.”

New protocols require extra medical protection and deep disinfecting. That includes the emergency medical technicians who sanitize their stretchers and wear extra protective gear.

Soon, half of the emergency department at this Oakland hospital will be a COVID-19 evaluation area. Doctors say they are all working overtime, sharing gear and preparing for what’s to come.

“Most likely we will get a larger surge,” emergency medical specialist Dr. Douglas Spurr said. “It is all new territory for us and we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Right now there are no elective surgeries, more telehealth being performed and balancing it all with day to day emergencies.

Additionally, with masks being scarce, emergency workers describe saving them and putting them into brown paper bags and then tubs for a week, allowing viruses to die. Then, one week later, they’re planning on reusing the masks.

“We are really all working together,” Spurr said.

911 calls are now screened before paramedics arrive so proper precautions are taken and patients stay safe. First responders are adapting as they go and falling back on training to treat those in need.

“We’re all a team,” Paramedic Captain Michael Shields said. “We’re all working together to make sure this is as smooth as possible.”

Hospital changes may affect those on the front lines, but they are trying their best knowing they have to remain flexible.

“They are very brave people and they’re doing great work,” Spurr said.