LOS ANGELES -- Three days ago, Precious Williams began to feel sick. The young pregnant mother had a runny nose, a sore throat and shortness of breath -- just some of the symptoms associated with novel coronavirus.
Concerned for her unborn child, the 22-year-old went to the Watts Health Center in South L.A. like she always has for her medical needs.
"I've been coming here since I was a child," she said. "It's where I've gotten all my shots, where I got all my dental done -- everything."
"These clinics are very important for people around here," she added.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, community clinics and health centers in Los Angeles County have helped mitigate the spread of the virus and prevented sick patients from overwhelming hospitals, which don't have enough beds, staffing or protective gear to treat a flood of patients.
Community clinics that typically handle primary care including checkups and prescribe patients insulin for diabetes or medicines for their high blood pressure have been canceling their regular appointments and seeing more patients with symptoms that match those of the coronavirus.
Clinic leaders say they know they play an important role in reducing the impact on overloaded hospitals, but worry about not being able to provide the necessary primary care to their communities.
Plus, clinic health care workers say they too are running low on masks, gowns and other equipment they need to protect staff against the novel coronavirus. Even for them, a virus surge could eventually force them to close their doors.
Intensive care beds at Los Angeles County's emergency-room hospitals are already at or near capacity, even as those facilities have doubled the number available for COVID-19 patients, according to data obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
That is why public and health officials ordered Californians to stay home in an effort to create social distance among people to help "flatten the curve" of the disease's spread and provide much needed relief to hospitals.