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Non-emergency calls to 911 clog system amid staffing shortfall

San Francisco officials are reminding people that they should only dial 911 for life-threatening emergencies as the omicron variant continues to affect staffing at the Fire Department and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson said about 10 percent of the department’s workforce, or around 140 people, are currently out after testing positive for Covid-19. Nicholson added that the department is seeing an increase in 911 calls, which she said is “putting a strain on the system.”

The City has been getting over 400 emergency calls a day in the last several days, where typically the city usually gets around 300 to 330 a day, Nicholson said.

She said that fire stations are fully staffed and that emergency medical services will be available, but ambulance availability is currently proving a challenge:

“We really want to keep our ambulances available to people having a heart attack or stroke so that we can get them to the hospital.”

Nicholson added that this was happening across the region, state and around the country.

San Francisco Zuckerberg General Hospital CEO Dr. Susan Ehrlich said her hospital is facing a similar situation with staffing. About 10 percent of its workforce, or 400 people, are either out with Covid-19 or in quarantine after potential exposure to the virus:

We’ve never seen anything quite like this during the surges we’ve had so far.”

Despite an increase in public demand for Covid-19 tests, both Ehrlich and Nicholson urged the public to not go to the emergency room requesting a Covid-19 test. If you have mild symptoms of the virus, stay home, Ehrlich said:

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

Other city agencies, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency have also seen a staffing shortage due to the surge in Covid-19 cases caused by omicron.

On Saturday, the SFMTA tweeted out on Twitter that passengers will have to wait longer on 10 bus routes due to multiple bus coaches not in service.

SFMTA”s Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum wrote on the agency’s website Friday that they are missing up to 15 percent of scheduled Muni service.

She said that the agency is planning for a worst case scenario if overall staffing levels significantly drop or if a small, “but vital group” in the Transit Management Center or Power Control Center is significantly impacted by the current Covid-19 surge:

Either of these situations could leave us with no choice but to make additional Muni service reductions such as cancelling routes or introducing bus substitutions for rail service.”

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