How Bay Area health officers got ahead of coronavirus

How Bay Area health officers got ahead of coronavirus

Instead, the San Francisco public health officer was jolted awake by an immediate 7: 39 a.m. text message from his boss.

” Can you set up a call with San Mateo and Santa Clara health officers this a.m., so we can discuss us all getting on the exact same page this week with aggressive actions, thanks,” said the message from Dr. Grant Colfax, director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

It was March 15, two days before St. Patrick’s Day, a heavy partying holiday and headache scenario for public health officials.

The unique coronavirus was spreading out stealthily across the San Francisco Bay Location and public health authorities were alarmed by the wave of deaths in Italy and somewhere else around the world. Silicon Valley would be next, case counts shown.

Until then, they had mainly concentrated on banning mass events. They knew more had actually to be done– and desired to present a united front.

Within a couple of hours of the text, Bay Location public health leaders jumped on a series of calls to dispute options, consisting of the most remarkable– a lockdown order that would shutter services, isolate families and force millions of locals to stay home.

They decided they had no choice. And they had the ability to move swiftly due to the fact that they had a secret weapon: a decades-long alliance seeded in the early days of the AIDS epidemic that shields them from political blowback when they need to make difficult choices.

Together, they would issue the nation’s very first stay-at-home order, most likely saving countless lives and charting the course for much of the country. 3 days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom followed with his own order for California. New york city followed, as have dozens of states given that.

” This was one tiring and challenging day for all of us,” Aragón later on composed in his journal. “We all dream we did not need to do this.”

Now, as authorities nationwide weigh how to lift seclusion orders as the rate of COVID-19 transmission slows– and demonstrations against the orders mount– the Bay Location is again poised to lead, however with a caution: All of this might be for naught if it isn’t done.


The union of county public health officers didn’t set out to lock down the Bay Location that eventful Sunday early morning in mid-March. But as they talked about the rapid increase in Santa Clara County cases, where the healthcare facilities were ending up being overwhelmed by infected patients falling ever sicker, what they required to do “started to crystallize,” stated Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer.

” It felt big to me,” she recalled, “due to the fact that I understood how disruptive it would be.”

Somewhere else in the region, diagnosed cases were sporadic. Decades of experience had actually revealed the health officers that while they represent different jurisdictions, they are one area when it comes to infectious illness.

” We understood that it would be a matter of time prior to that was our experience,” stated Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer, who contracted COVID-19 days later.

Cody told her colleagues that Italy was under siege, and her county was just two weeks away from a comparable fate. If she could have locked down quicker, she told them, she would have.

” That was engaging,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the public health officer for the city of Berkeley, which had actually not yet taped any cases of neighborhood transmission.

Dr. Scott Morrow, California’s longest-serving public health officer, who heads operations in San Mateo County, said he likewise felt the urgency.

Even for this group, though, with all its collective strength, telling millions of Californians to shelter in location appeared risky at.

For circumstances, they presently disagree on whether to require residents to use face coverings.

On the first Sunday morning call, Aragón floated the idea of establishing a coordinated suggestion that Bay Location locals stay at home.

So strong a move can be out of favor, however proof reveals it can also be the most efficient, in the lack of treatment or a vaccine.

” When you do a quarantine, you stop the commerce, you stop the flow of cash,” he stated.


This isn’t the group’s very first pandemic.

Many of the contagious disease research was taking place in San Francisco at the time, however HIV was spreading, and one city couldn’t battle it alone.

” It was crucial that we share all the details we had,” said Werdegar, now in his 80 s and retired.

Dr. Robert Melton, a former Monterey County health officer, said that working for almost two decades with Bay Area public health giants taught him significant lessons.

That close-knit relationship amongst the 13 health officers– representing counties stretching across a big swath of Northern California, from Napa to Monterey– continues to this day. Collectively, their public health actions touch about 8.5 million individuals.

They meet regular monthly and communicate routinely on Slack, a messaging app. Their varied backgrounds and expertise, particularly in an age of funding cuts, provide a deep wellspring of public health understanding. Together, the group has joined forces to combat youth vaping, air contamination and measles break outs.

And they have actually also taken on different influenza scares, which is why they had an emergency action blueprint ready when cases of what would later be called COVID-19 very first turned up in Wuhan, China.

” We invested a couple years as an area considering pandemic planning, and that really assisted us come a long method thinking of these policies for COVID-19,” stated Dr. Erica Pan, the interim health officer for Alameda County.

So when they got on the call that Sunday, they were already in mid-conversation about how to respond. They brought their lawyers and, working into the predawn hours, translated their lockdown plan into legalese, one that would be enforceable with fines and misdemeanor charges.

They would make prime-time statements throughout the region the next day, together with elected authorities. “This is not the minute for half-measures,” stated San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “History will not forgive us for waiting an hour more.”

However they don’t always speak as one. Morrow, who is known passionately amongst the group for his crankiness and wry funny bone, later rebuked homeowners who weren’t following the orders, saying “you spit in our face and you will contribute to the death toll that will follow.”

And at initially, even the stay-at-home order applied just to the “Big 7” counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay, whose officers peeled off from the larger group to issue it.

Dr. Gail Newel, an OB-GYN and Santa Cruz County’s health officer, is not a transmittable disease specialist.

” It’s this amazing bank of understanding and knowledge and experience that’s easily shared among the members,” she stated.


Approximately one month after they made the unmatched choice to close the local economy, the risk seems to have actually settled. It will be years before scientists have totally analyzed its effect, however officials throughout the Bay Location are cautiously optimistic. Others have not been so lucky.

Though there are important differences in between the 2 regions, New york city City, which issued a stay-at-home order four days after the Bay Location, saw its health centers totally overwhelmed and had taped more than 14,600 deaths as of Monday.

By comparison, the counties represented by the alliance have recorded more than 205 deaths and healthcare facilities have not been surpassed by a rise. Hospitals brought online particularly to accommodate an overflow of clients are sitting mainly empty.

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Internally, some of the Bay Location health officials have actually questioned if they made the ideal call.

And the close-knit band is already undertaking its next job: resuming the economy without triggering another spike in cases.

Prior to the orders are lifted, the officials state there should be rapid, widespread screening across the population.

” I was worried that we may get a great deal of resistance and it might get translated as alarmist and overreach,” stated Marin County’s Willis. “Time has actually shown that it was truly a vital action to take when we took it.”

Hart and Barry-Jester write for Kaiser Health News (KHN), which releases California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Structure. KHN is not associated with Kaiser Permanente.

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