Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates for UC San Diego Health patients and visitors. Learn More

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How We've Prepared for COVID-19

Care Team in expanded ER

UC San Diego Health was the first health system in the San Diego region to start caring for patients with COVID-19. We have also been leading regional research efforts, including participating in clinical trials, to develop and test COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. And our scientists have launched a mobile platform to measure mental health and well-being during and after the pandemic on a global level.

Like hospital systems elsewhere, we have seen an increase in patients who are in need of specialized respiratory care during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are caring for these patients at our Hillcrest and La Jolla locations in San Diego County and are well-prepared to treat more as needed. And we are embracing new ways, including telehealth, to continue seeing our other patients to keep them healthy.

Here are some of the steps we have taken to protect and care for you and the community:

Appointments and Safety

We have streamlined the ways in which we see patients. UC San Diego Health patients are asked to call ahead to make an appointment or before scheduled appointments if they have fever or respiratory symptoms. We are converting scheduled visits to video visits, if appropriate.

We also have set up a dedicated nurse line for COVID-19 screening and testing. During a phone conversation, a triage nurse will determine the best way our patients can get care. They may be referred to one of these options: an in-person clinic visit, the Emergency Department, an urgent care clinic, a video visit, drive-up COVID-19 testing, or home isolation.

We also have new and improved safety measures in our hospitals and clinics — including universal masking, health screening protocols and physical distancing practices — to protect all our patients, including those seeking care for other reasons.

Entrance Screening and Visitor Restrictions

We are conducting health screenings at the entrances of our facilities to screen for those who have symptoms of the novel coronavirus, including fever, a new cough, shortness of breath or recent loss of taste or smell. Any visitor or employee with those symptoms isn't allowed to enter. Masks or face coverings are required for all patients, visitors and staff. In addition, we have tightened our visitors policy, suspending all routine visitation at our hospitals and clinics (with some exceptions) until the transmission of COVID-19 is no longer a threat. All our health care workers and staff must complete a daily health screening before they are allowed to come to work at any of our facilities.

Making Room

One of our first actions to help prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients was to make more room in our hospitals. We postponed non-emergency surgeries, which allowed us to increase the number of beds and caregivers available to care for patients with COVID-19. We have since resumed procedures, surgeries and appointments that were delayed during the crisis and are vital to the health of our patients and the community.

We have more than 110 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and can convert more beds for intensive care as needed. Overall, UC San Diego Health has 808 licensed beds.

Triage tent at UCSD

ER Expansion

In case our emergency rooms get full, we erected two specialized structures — known as triage tents — outside our hospitals in Hillcrest and La Jolla to manage patient care. These units are fully stocked with medical supplies and diagnostic testing equipment.

The structures allow UC San Diego Health to quickly evaluate patients with respiratory illnesses and to determine who needs to be hospitalized and who can safely be sent home.

Increased Testing Capabilities

UC San Diego Health conducts multiple types of COVID-19 tests, both to diagnose active infections and to determine past exposure to the virus, for our patients and staff. We were the first in the San Diego region to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing and have prioritized testing as a critical tool for breaking the cycle of virus transmission.

We use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to diagnose patients and others who have symptoms consistent with an active SARS-CoV-2 infection. PCR testing is also done selectively on patients and health care workers who don't have symptoms of infection but are at risk of getting or spreading the disease. All patients scheduled for surgery, for example, are tested. We perform asymptomatic testing to prevent the inadvertent spread of disease by people who are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic.

In addition, UC San Diego Health can conduct "rapid response" PCR tests, with results available in approximately an hour. These tests are primarily done in high-priority areas, such as the emergency department. The turnaround time to get PCR results is usually less than 24 hours.

Serological testing looks for antibodies in the blood that are indicative of past exposure to SARS-CoV-2. In such cases, people have recovered and may even have been asymptomatic, never knowing they were infected. Serology tests are largely a surveillance tool to better understand how many infections with SARS-CoV-2 have occurred at different points in time, in different locations and within different populations. Our antibody testing is currently focused on health care workers and patients, as well as UC San Diego students, faculty and staff on campus.

Mobile Lifesaving Technology

UC San Diego Health provides ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) technology to COVID-19 patients who become so ill that a ventilator alone cannot sustain life; their blood requires to be oxygenated with the help of the ECMO machine. This life-support technology replaces the function of the heart and/or lungs.

In April, we launched mobile ECMO units with a multidisciplinary team that includes pulmonologists, surgeons, nurses and perfusionists with expertise in critical care medicine. We are providing this transportable ECMO to area hospitals that either don’t have the technology or need it when their own ECMO service gets maxed out.

Caring for the Community

Through our affiliation with El Centro Regional Medical Center in Imperial County, our care teams deliver on-site and telemedicine-based critical care to patients with COVID-19. The most critically ill patients may be transferred to one of our hospitals, including via mobile ECMO services.

UC San Diego Health is also part of a cross-border volunteer team of critical care doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who collaborate with their counterparts at hospitals in Tijuana and Mexicali on how best to treat the sickest patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Locally, we have donated safety equipment to various organizations, such as the Alpha Project and Chicano Federation, which help the homeless and families in need in San Diego County. We have also provided COVID-19 testing services to the homeless in partnership with the Father Joe’s Villages nonprofit organization.

Ability to Add Doctors and Nurses

UC San Diego Health has a workforce of more than 1,250 faculty and affiliate doctors and more than 2,900 nurses. We also can give additional doctors privileges at our hospital, and have access to extra nurse travelers and registry nurses to quickly boost our caregiving capacity.

Our COVID-19 command centers monitor all personnel needs and deploy caregivers and resources across our health system in real time.

Donations for COVID-19 Emergency Response

The outpouring of support from our community has empowered us to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your continued support can help us prepare for what is next. Visit our donations page for details on how you can help.

Working Together

During this pandemic, it is everyone's responsibility to protect one another's health. See regularly updated information about our care and services during the COVID-19 crisis.