Bay Area’s hospital capacity continues to drop as state struggles with COVID-19 surge

Regional shelter-in-place orders likely to be extended

COVID-19 hospital admissions are slowing statewide, but the Bay Area’s intensive care unit capacity continues to decline, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

The region’s intensive care beds are at 9.5 percent availability, down from 13.7 percent last week. San Francisco’s ICU capacity stands at 33 percent as of Saturday.

Regional stay-at-home orders, which are triggered by intensive care hospital unit capacities of less than 15 percent, are anticipated to be extended in several parts of the state, including the Bay Area, but that decision will be based on projections not available until Tuesday.

The Bay Area’s order is currently set to end on Jan. 8. The region hit the state threshold on Dec. 17, but San Francisco and other counties opted to begin the shutdown early, on Dec. 6.

While cases and admissions are beginning to slow down across the state, precautions are still urged as another surge is expected.

“It’s likely those stay at home orders will be extended,” Newsom said. “We likely will experience in 2 weeks, 10, 14, 18 days from now this surge stacked on top of this other surges related to holiday activities.”

Many Californians did change plans for the holidays, noted the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, but more than 100,000 people passed through security checkpoints at San Francisco International Airport alone in the weeks leading up to Christmas. San Francisco enacted a mandatory 10-day quarantine order for anyone returning or visiting the Bay Area from outside the region, but there was little or no enforcement.

Elsewhere in the state, the ICU capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley has held steady at an alarming 0 percent since last week. The Greater Sacramento and Northern California regions slightly increased capacity this week to 16.6 percent and 29.3 percent, respectively.

California will receive more Moderna and Pfizer vaccines by the end of the week, totaling 1.76 million doses. As of Saturday, 261,672 doses had been administered to health care workers and those in long-term care in the state.

Moving forward, California will partner with Walgreens and CVS to administer the vaccine, Newsom announced Monday.

The next phase of vaccinations is still being determined but could be open to those ages 75 and older and those working in education, childcare, emergency services, food and agriculture. The next tier of priorities will include people ages 65 and up with underlying conditions, incarcerated and unhoused people, as well as workers in transportation, logistics, residential and industrial sectors; manufacturing could come next.

Newsom added that the new federal stimulus signed Sunday would alleviate the state’s budget in responding to the crisis. The package includes $600 individual checks for residents and an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits — half the amount provided by the first stimulus. Food stamp benefits will also increase for six months, the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses will be available again, and funding for local schools and rental assistance are also included.

Dr. Ghaly called the coming weeks the “last worrying periods” of the pandemic and encouraged people to stay local and avoid mixing households.

“The trends have started to come down, but it’s not enough,” Dr. Ghaly said. “Things that were one month ago or two months ago a low-risk activity, today are really high risks because of the level of COVID that’s circulating in our communities. It’s time to stay laser-focused on what we can do in the days to come.”

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