UPDATE - March 24, 2020: San Diego County officials provided new information about the number of ventilators available during the coronavirus pandemic. To read the latest information, click here.
Since March 9, the day the first San Diego County resident tested positive for Coronavirus, the county has warned the public of the coming hit to public safety. Two weeks after that first positive test result 205 people tested positive for the viral disease, a county resident in her 70s has died, and state and local governments are scrambling to flatten the upward curve.
Meanwhile public health officials have given dire warnings about supply shortages of life-saving equipment at hospitals throughout the country, San Diego included.
And if projections are correct and hundreds of thousands in San Diego County become infected with the viral disease, then local hospitals are in a severe shortage of ventilators.
County health officials tell NBC 7 Investigates that there are 300 mechanical ventilators available for use if needed as of Monday, March 23.
“This is a fluid number that changes daily based on conditions,” said Craig Sturak, a spokesperson for the San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency. “Today there are 300 available for use. That could change tomorrow. And yes, we have requests for additional ventilators from both the state and feds.”
Ventilators play a crucial role in fighting the respiratory complications which accompany severe cases of the disease, including pneumonia. Some in the county, including Chula Vista councilmember Steve Padilla, have been placed on ventilators since contracting coronavirus.
In countries such as Italy, doctors have struggled with having to make the choice between which patients should get a ventilator and which ones shouldn’t.
In a February 2020 report by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, health experts warned that a pandemic such as coronavirus “could quickly overwhelm day-to-day operational capabilities,” at hospitals throughout the country.
Among those “operational capabilities” is having enough ventilators for those who are unable to breathe without assistance.
NBC 7 spoke to Mick Farrell, CEO of ResMed, a ventilator manufacturer in San Diego about the shortage of ventilators last week. Farrell said The U.S. Federal Reserve has just 12,700 ventilators stockpiled in case of an emergency, prompting manufacturers such as ResMed to begin ramping up production.
“The United States Federal Reserve has 12,700 ventilators in the federal reserve,” Farrell told NBC 7. “That is not going to be enough, so we are working with them on what that is and we are working with state governments here in California also in Washington State which has been severely hit.”
County spokesperson Sturak said the 300 available does not include those in use now.
“This should not be confused with the total number of machines in the county, which I do not have readily available. But this is the number available for use today [Monday].”