By Thomas K. Pendergast
When Tina Cen-Camarao walked up the stairs to the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center with an orange plastic bag full of surgical and N95 masks, security seemed confused and started asking questions.
But when they figured out that she was offering a donation, their attitude immediately changed from confusion to gratitude.
She and her husband, Edwin Camarao, also dropped off a bag of masks for the staff of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center at Mt. Zion.
This time a member of their staff thanked them immediately.
“That’s so cool, thank you so much!” COVID-19 screening program manager Regina Durr said.
“We definitely recognize that there’s a national shortage of masks and we’re trying to be as conservative as possible,” she said, pointing out that while the staff is wearing surgical masks, the N95 masks there are being saved for physicians directly treating patients.
“We’re trying to maintain our supply as well as increase our supply,” Durr said.
Tina and Edwin live in the Sunset District, and they agree that it all began with a press conference where the San Francisco supervisor for District 6, Matt Haney, called attention to the local shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“There are thousands of San Francisco healthcare workers going in every day to protect all of us during this crisis; it is essential that we protect them,“ Haney said. “They shouldn’t have to fight for their own health and safety. They need to be focusing on patients they are treating and saving.
“In Italy, their response has been devastated by the spread of the virus among hospital workers, who have represented roughly 10% of total cases. It is absolutely critical that we prevent that from happening here. We have to listen to our healthcare workers and have their backs,” he said.
Tina was a translator at the press conference, and when she realized the urgency of the need, she decided to act. So the Camaraos chipped in seed money and started using their social contacts, along with setting up a GoFundMe online fundraiser website page, and started raising money to get PPE however they could.
On March 31, they distributed masks by the hundreds. By mid-April, they were distributing them in the thousands.
“We are so grateful of organizations bringing in masks like we just experienced today; 6,000 surgical masks goes a long way for us,” President Anthony Armada of the Seton Medical Center in Daly City said when that hospital’s cut came in. “For the surgical masks that we got today, we can go through 1,500-2,000 of those daily….
“And for N95s, we go through 300-400 daily, depending on how many COVID patients we have that we need to take care of,” he said.
On April 15, Armada reported 18 patients in the hospital for coronavirus infection, six of them in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and five of them on ventilators. He said that although the ages skewed older, they were also treating younger folks.
He also said their first COVID patient was admitted on March 24, but on the positive side they have “probably had a dozen discharged already.”
“We have enough N95s to give us at least a 30-day supply, even with a moderate surge,” Armada said. He estimates his supply of surgical masks will last 60 days, including the Camaraos’ donation.
He also mentioned that while they had three ventilators at first, they were able to convert anesthesia machines to be “ventilator-capable” in a pinch.
On April 14, Leon Chow, a coordinator for the healthcare workers’ union SEIU Local 2015 said although they had plenty of gloves, they were clean out of masks. These workers care for people in nursing homes and in their own homes.
He noted that even if these workers are willing to fork over their own money, there is nothing on the shelf for them to buy right now.
Chow also mentioned that at the moment, they had about a dozen workers who already tested positive for the virus, mostly from a nursing home. Among the residents of that home, about 60 tested positive.
They also had a couple of clients receiving home care services who tested positive; one is in ICU and the other died.
Meanwhile, over at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH), Registered Nurse Kristen Silloway said they had enough masks for about a couple of days going forward, and they were receiving supplies.
“But you know, this is ever-evolving and it’s changing every day. But for now we do have enough to take care of ourselves and our patients,” she said. “But that’s not to say that that won’t change.
“We have been very fortunate that, in our city, that the mayor did act more quickly than other places. And I think that has definitely helped our situation that we are not in the same dire straits as New York City,” Silloway said.
On April 15, she said SFGH had about 39 coronavirus patients.
At Seton, Daly City Councilwoman Pamela DiGiovanni emphasized the need for masks.
“We haven’t even hit the surge yet for the COVID,” DiGiovanni said. “According to our county health (department), they don’t know the exact date but, in San Mateo County, it will probably be in May.
“Because we’ve done pretty well in our county, as of flattening the line by social distancing, which is the number one, and we’ve been sheltering in place, and our ordinances are pretty tight, that we’ve been able to stay below the number of what was anticipated,” she elaborated.
“Any time someone passes from this it’s horrible. But the numbers were not what we expected and we’re hoping that we can continue that,” DiGiovanni said.
“These people are putting their lives and their families at risk, and can’t go home, and are scared to go home, and these nurses should not feel that way,” she said. “So, for me, the supplies are key to keeping them alive because they are keeping everybody else alive.”
Visit RichmondSunsetNews.com to watch a video of the donations and interviews with healthcare professionals.