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 new 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 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. We are also trying to make sure that our health care workers are not coming to work sick.

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 critical procedures, surgeries and appointments that were delayed during the crisis.

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, to determine who needs to be hospitalized and who can safely be sent home.

Increased Testing Capabilities

UC San Diego Health is conducting multiple types of testing for COVID-19, 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.

Partnering with five leading in vitro diagnostics manufacturers, our UC San Diego Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine can perform up to 1,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per day, which are used to diagnose patients and others who have symptoms of an active SARS-CoV-2 infection or are at greater exposure risk, such as health care workers and first responders. Patients scheduled for surgery also are tested. The turnaround time to get results is less than 24 hours.

In addition, UC San Diego can conduct 100 "rapid response" PCR tests per day, with results available in approximately an hour. These tests are primarily done in high-priority areas, such as the emergency department.

Serological testing looks for antibodies in the blood that are indicative of past exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In such cases, people have recovered and may even have been asymptomatic, never knowing they were infected. Our antibody testing capacity is approximately 1,000 tests per day, and we are focused on testing 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) 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

UC San Diego Health is part of a cross-border volunteer team of critical care doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who collaborate with their counterparts at Tijuana’s hard-hit General Hospital on how best to treat the sickest patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in the area. Our effort, which including providing four weeks of onsite clinical volunteer support in the ICU, continues with return visits and twice-weekly tele-ICU support, including at Mexicali General Hospital. We also sent protective medical equipment, including N95 respirators, masks, face shields and goggles, for distribution to to health care providers in Tijuana and Mexicali.

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.

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

If you would like to help us sustain our ability to care for our patients, employees and community, please consider donating. We are accepting medical supplies, monetary donations and meal sponsorships. 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.