San Francisco (CA) Reports High Demand, Short Staffing

The image shows a parked San Francisco ambulance.
File Photo

Danielle Echeverria

San Francisco Chronicle


San Francisco officials warned Saturday that, due to high demand and staffing shortages fueled by the omicron surge, people should only call 911 for “life threatening emergencies.”

People should not call 911 or go to the emergency room seeking a COVID-19 test or for mild flu-like symptoms, they said.

“Please help us keep ambulances available for medical emergencies,” said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson. “We really want to get our most critically ill or injured patients, and we need the public’s help.”

Nicholson said a surge in 911 calls — which she said is a nationwide trend — is “putting a strain on the system.” She said that for the last several days, the city had been seeing more than 400 emergency calls a day, compared to a norm of 300 to 330.

While numbers stabilized from 408 on Friday to 318 on Saturday, the city will continue to monitor calls “to see if this trend holds,” emergency officials said in an email Sunday.

Amid the overall increase in emergency calls, Nicholson said, the Fire Department is seeing 10% of its workforce from the fire suppression and ambulance staff — or about 140 people — out because they have tested positive for COVID.

Hospitals are experiencing a similar problem, said San Francisco Zuckerberg General Hospital CEO Dr. Susan Ehrlich. She said that, like the fire department, the hospital is seeing about 10% of its staff, or 400 people, out for COVID-19 related reasons — either they have tested positive or must quarantine due to exposure, she said. That number does not include staff who are out for other reasons.

“We’ve never seen anything quite like this during the surges we’ve had so far,” she said. “Every emergency department, every hospital in the city is impacted by the current omicron surge.”

She also implored people not to come to emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests, a problem she said has worsened with “unprecedented” demand amid a short supply of tests.

“If you have symptoms, if you’re feeling sick, you should stay home, take care of yourself, and try to stay away from people as much as possible,” Ehrlich said.

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @DanielleEchev


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