Bay Area ICU capacity reaches 23.4%, medical experts expect lockdown to lift soon

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: A nurse monitors a coronavirus COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) at Regional Medical Center on May 21, 2020 in San Jose, California. Frontline workers are continuing to care for coronavirus COVID-19 p

The Bay Area's Intensive Care Unit capacity is growing by the week, reaching 23.4% on Saturday. The California Department of Public Health calls it a "promising sign" that the region is emerging from the most intense stage of the pandemic.

After weeks in the single digits, the Bay Area is now beyond the 15% threshhold the state measured when deciding in December to put counties under a stay-at-home order.

"At UCSF for example, we're at about half the number of hospitalizations for COVID right now than we were around January 10th to 12th," Dr. Peter Chin-Honh, professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist at UCSF said.

The decision to lift the lockdown is based on a four week ICU projection that Public Health formulates. Public Health has not shared the projections for the Bay Area publicly yet, but did lift Sacramento County's stay-at-home order earlier this month, when ICU's were at 9.4% capacity.

San Francisco's Mayor London Breed tweeted Friday that the city may be reopening soon, if the reproductive rate of the virus remains below 1.

Omar Nazzal owns Old Mission Barber Shop in San Francisco. He closed his shop for seven months last year to comply with the state's multiple shutdowns, and is using his savings and support from family to get by. 

"I'm just hopeful that we'll get to reopen, and that this will be the last time...that we're shut down," Nazzal said.

When the lockdown is lifted, the Bay Area will be back in the purple tier, and Nazzal's barber shop is prepared with a comprehensive safety plan.

When it does reopen, it will operate at a limited capacity with no waiting area and temperature checks at the door. The barber shop will allow one client per barber, and will halt face shaves. Face masks are worn at all times by customers and barbers, and work stations are six feet apart, with dividers installed between them. Touchless payment options and thorough sanitization between clients will also be implemented, and doors will be open to keep the air flowing.

"It's much safer than going to a grocery store, or going to the mall where they're not temperature checking, there's no open doors with air flow," Nazzal said.

With the winter holidays behind us, Chin-Hong says the post-New Years' surge was largely avoided. He's encouraged that the public is following the rules, so when the lockdown is lifted, COVID-19 numbers won't spike again.

"We're looking forward to that movement, and I think it's going to come soon," Chin-Hong said. "But it just means we need to be careful when we engage and re-engage in those activities."