San Francisco ER doctor discusses the coronavirus pandemic and preparedness

These are anxious times for many people with many facing layoffs and school closures. But it's especially stressful for health professionals on the front lines who need to care for people infected with the coronavirus.

The doctor who heads up the emergency department of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital gave KTVU an inside account of what's he and his colleagues are dealing with as they fight the many unknowns of this COVID-19 crisis.  

"We're seeing more and more of the low and moderately sick patients. We're not seeing an alarming surge,  but that's what we're preparing for," said Dr. Chris Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg SF General.

He said there are currently 17 patients admitted at the hospital of which at least three tested positive for the coronavirus with the rest under investigation.

"We have to avoid the huge spike of hundreds of potential critically ill people coming in, in a very short period of time," said Dr. Colwell.

He said that's why sheltering in place and social distancing are essential to reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

Also critical, Colwell said, is the need for personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, "Today, we do have the equipment that we need. It is in short supply. We're certainly very concerned."

That equipment includes eye protection, gowns, and most importantly, the N95 face masks.

The doctor said the average person does not need them, "That why it's so important to preserve and not hoard that equipment." 

Colwell said SF General has about 70 of the 700 ventilators at hospitals throughout the city.

Fortunately, few Covid-19 patients need ventilators at this time.

In the Bayview at the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, the executive director is checking on 69-year-old Dianne Warren.

She's among the many residents who have critical health issues.  

Warren has a lung condition and suffers from irregular heartbeats.

"I like to get out and walk and exercise. I'm really scared to leave the house," said Warren.

Medical experts say there is no need to be scared but that sheltering in place could save lives.

"Please abide by those rules. Allow the medical system to ramp up for what it may face," said Dr. Colwell.

He said there is no reason to panic, but to take this seriously.

Take comfort in knowing that the Bay Area has among the best medical experts and frontline workers to handle this crisis.