Bay Area ICUs nearly full as capacity dips below 1 %

Lifting the state's COVID-19 lockdown order for the Bay Area seems more out of reach as the region's ICU capacity steadily drops. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a look at ICU levels around the state on Monday, which showed the Bay Area's ICU capacity nearly full with just 0.7% remaining.

"Based on ICU capacity currently, unless those projections are erratically different, we can expect that stay-at-home to continue," Newsom said. 

State health officials will only lift lockdown orders once a region's projected ICU capacity is at or above the 15% threshold. 

The lockdown order for the Bay Area was supposed to expire on Jan. 8 but was quietly extended indefinitely as the ICU rate fell to 3%. The order first went into effect on Dec. 17. 

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California Health and Human Services, is expected to give the final say on whether the lockdown order will be lifted on Tuesday afternoon. 

Officials have repeatedly said " a surge on top of a surge" would hit soon with people traveling and intermixing around the holidays, something experts strongly warned against.

But the news isn't all dire. 

At the South Bay's Regional Medical Center, they tend to take in the highest number of COVID-19 patients in the Bay Area because of the demographics of its location in East San Jose, according to its spokeswoman Sarah Sherwood.

She said the current number of COVID patients at the hospital is down a surprising 20% compared to the Thanksgiving and Christmas surges.

"We're not out of the woods yet. We believe January will be the last part of this particular surge coming from Christmas and New Year," Sherwood said. 

At Hula Hoops Restaurant in South San Francisco, the owner hopes the ICU capacity at hospitals will improve so she can re-open for on-site dining.

Sherry Chua said business is down 90% since outdoor dining was shut down in December.

"We spent money on the patio seating, the plexi glasses. Now, everything's back to zero," Chua said. 

She checks the San Mateo County website everyday to see the current number of COVID cases.

"The hospital cases everyday, it's been increasing in our area. It's very scary," Chua said.  

"We need to double down on our efforts: wearing on our damn masks, making sure we socially distance and the social gatherings. That's where the virus is flourishing," said San Mateo County supervisor David Canepa.  

At Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Chris Colwell, the chief of emergency medicine said as of Monday morning, there were 65 COVID-19 patients there.14 of them are in ICU.

Colwell said that is the highest number of the pandemic so far.

He said the hospital will use the tents whether on site or at a clinic to deal with a surge if necessary.

"We're not seeing the full impact of the New Year holiday yet. We're concerned because of the rate we're at. At the rate we're going right now, that will just continue a surge that is already at its highest point," said Colwell.  

Back in San Jose, Sherwood said Regional Medical Center is at capacity for ICU beds, but that Good Samaritan and other hospitals in Santa Clara County do have availability.

She attributes this, in part, to hospitals now being able to discharge COVID-19 patients quicker.

"We're seeing an influx of younger patients patients in their 20s and 30s. They tend to get better faster," Sherwood said.

Dr. Colwell said there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, but he cautions that we are still in the tunnel and we can not let our guard down.