Bay Area health officials expect COVID cases to go up after holidays

In the Bay Area, health officials are bracing for a surge in COVID cases as people return from their holiday travels. 

Experts said while the number of COVID cases aren't as high as Southern California's, the case count continues to climb and is much higher than what they saw in October. Some hospitals are postponing elective surgeries.

Health officials expect the numbers to get worse in the coming weeks after Christmas and New Year’s.

As people return home from Christmas holiday travel, health officials worry the coronavirus will spread from Southern California to the Bay Area.

"The biggest drivers of the California numbers, it’s really Southern California and Los Angeles County in particular," said UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

In the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, ICU capacity is at zero percent. In the Bay Area, ICUs are filling up.

"We definitely are at capacity," said Regional Medical Center Nurse Liz Thurstone. "We have over 100 Covid patients, that was certainly a large spike after Thanksgiving. We have delayed elective surgeries at this point in time."

Kaiser Permanente is also postponing non-urgent surgeries through Jan. 4 at its 21 hospitals in Northern California. Kaiser is not delaying cancer cases.

UCSF Medical Center and Sutter Health are closely monitoring capacity levels, deciding on non-essential surgeries based on data.

"We are all getting full and having sicker and sicker patients that stay in the wards because there is no room in the ICU," said Stanford Pulmonary & Critical Care Physician Dr. Angela Rogers.

In Santa Clara County, a record 2,000 cases were reported Saturday, an additional 1,600 cases on Sunday. Dr. Angela Rogers works in the ICU at Stanford Hospital.

"Our county of Santa Clara has done a really nice job of trying to shift patients between hospitals so they all are getting full at the same time," said Dr. Rogers.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong from UCSF Medical Center said his hospital's available ICU capacity is at 30-percent. 

"It’s very dynamic so one day we could be at 30 percent, next day we can easily be down to single digits," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

He said Bay Area hospitals won’t see the effects of Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel and gatherings until two weeks after when people become sick enough to go to the ICU. For that reason, he thinks the stay at home order will last well into January.

"I think the stay-at-home order for the entire month unfortunately because we still haven't seen the Christmas surge yet and New Year’s is even more tempting in terms of wanting to celebrate."

In the Bay Area, the stay-at-home order is set to expire on Jan. 8. Right now, ICU capacity is 11.1 percent. It has to be at 15 percent for three weeks for it to be lifted.