San Diego Healthcare Workers Concerned About Spike in COVID Cases

A local doctor and her patient reunite over a Zoom call to talk about their concern and the potential repercussions of increasing COVID-19 cases.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned this week that hospitalizations in California could be two to three times higher by Christmas if people don’t work to stop the spread of the virus.

This week, NBC 7 spoke with several doctors who said they’re already seeing the impacts of increased cases.

“We’re recruiting more doctors just because we know what’s ahead of us,” said Dr. Michele Ritter, an infectious-disease specialist and director of the COVID-19 Telemedicine Clinic at UC San Diego Health.

Dr. Hai Shao, an infectious-disease specialist at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, said that approximately two weeks ago, the Sharp system only had 80 patients with COVID-19 that required hospitalization and now that number has increased to 270.

“We’re already experiencing shortage of nursing staff, shortage of medication,” Shao said.

And Dr. Sapna Iyer, a physician at Kaiser San Diego Medical Center, said they’ve been preparing for winter since the pandemic started.

“We’re kind of heads down, noses to the ground, preparing for the winter here,” Iyer said.

Iyer said she had treated dozens of COVID-19 patients since March, including 67-year-old Rich Pickett, a grandfather from Tierrasanta.  

“When I went in [to the hospital], I didn’t think I was going to come out alive,” Pickett recalled.

Pickett said he spent 16 days in the hospital, and he was on a ventilator for 10 of those days.

“About two days after that, I got the pleasure of meeting Dr. Iyer, behind the mask though," said Pickett over a three-way Zoom call with NBC 7 and Iyer. "This is the first time seeing her without the mask,”

“Rich is one of the most motivated patients I have ever had the pleasure of taking care of,” Iyer said.

More than seven months ago, when Pickett was being treated, hospitals were overwhelmed. Iyer and Pickett said they worry that could happen again.

“Do what you can to stop the spread of this virus so your family members and friends who need their elective procedures and medical care won’t have to have those delayed,” warned Iyer, who added that people need to continue wearing masks, physically distancing and limiting interactions with people outside their households.

Pickett said he was incredibly grateful for the staff at Kaiser. He said his recovery is going well and is now able to mountain bike with his family, continue his work as a professional pilot and flight instructor, and has no long-term side-effects associated with the virus.

“They say, ‘Wow, you missed Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family,' " Pickett said, "and it’s really hard, no question about it, but I think it’s far better to miss one of those than miss the rest of your life having those events with those folks."

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