SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — With new COVID cases continuing to surge across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a somber prediction Monday that by Christmas the state could run out of beds in ICU units needed to take care of those most critically ill with the coronavirus, flu and and other life-threatening illnesses.
Newsom and state health officials are alarmed by the acceleration in the number of new COVID cases with an 89 percent increase of hospitalizations in just the last 14 days. And the anticipated surge in cases from Thanksgiving travel and gatherings will not begin until early December.
Compounding the problem is that the state is entering its flu season and annually those numbers also place strains on ICU and hospital capacities.
Of the new COVID cases, Newsom said 12 percent would likely require some form of hospitalization.
“We anticipate based upon what occurred over the course over the last number of days that within the next number of weeks – one to two weeks based upon Thanksgiving activities and all the efforts to educate people against those activities and gatherings – that we will see an increase in cases,” he said.
“We are doing, relatively speaking, better than the overwhelming majority of the states, ranking 39th in the country with 34.5 cases per 100,000 population,” he added. “But that said, the alarming concern, it’s not just for our state but you’re seeing this in other states, is the rate of growth.”
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly echoed those concerns that the worse is yet to come.
“The high case numbers that we’ve seen in the last week and 10 days have not even begun to impact hospitals yet,” he said. “We know that it takes about two weeks. So a few days ago when we had a case level of 18,000-plus cases in the state, what that tells us is that’s not yet impacted the hospitals, the emergency rooms, the ICUs.”
Newsom's graphic shows the projected total percentage of #ICU admissions by #ChristmasEve… a drastic increase. Newsom says if things do not change, more measures may be enacted. https://t.co/GTqpAzv4Wb pic.twitter.com/BvGYsfTjrh
— KPIX 5 (@KPIXtv) November 30, 2020
Newson said projections show that the number of patients requiring ICU care by Dec. 24th could be as high as 112 percent of the current capacity in the state.
In the Bay Area, those numbers were not nearly as dire with an increase from 72 percent currently to 91 percent by Christmas Eve.
Ghaly said the state is preparing for the mid-December surge.
“We are doing all we can to anticipate this surge, building beds, adding staff, making sure equipment is available, working to make sure all of the different waivers and permissions are in place,” he said. “So hospitals can do all they can for the patients coming through their front doors.”
While not announcing any new restrictions, Newsom warned that the surge could force his hand to put into place a tougher stay-at-home order in the counties currently in the Purple Tier. Every San Francisco Bay Area county is currently in the most restrictive tier except Marin County, which remains in the red.
Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties all currently have a curfew in place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for all non-essential workers.
“If these trends continue,” Newsom said. “We are going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic, actions including taking a look at those Purple Tiered counties. They are now 51 of the 58 counties. We had nine counties over the weekend move backwards (on the COVID monitoring scale).”
“We are accessing this in real time over the next day or two to make determinations of deep purple moves in those purple tiers that is more in line with the stay-at-home order that folks were familiar with at the beginning of this year with modifications of the work we are currently doing.”
Newsom said any new stay-at-home order would be ‘more surgical’ and not as expansive as the one put into place in March.
“We are working specifically with our health teams to look at the data and let the data guide that (what kind of stay-at-home order to issue) not emotion, not past practices, but really get a sense of what is driving any of those decisions,” he said. “We are trying to be much more specific, more surgical…and more prescriptive in terms of looking at the efficacy and where the data leads us in making those determinations — sector by sector, county by county, region by region.”
Newsom’s concerns were shared by Santa Clara County Director of Public Health Dr. Sara Cody when she placed new restrictions over the weekend on her county to slow the surge of cases.
“We urge everyone to stay home to the greatest extent that you can,” Cody said. “Please stay home. Do not go out unless it is for essential reasons.”
As of Saturday, there were 760 new cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County and 239 COVID-related hospitalizations, 71 of whom are in the ICU. All those are record numbers since the pandemic began in late January.
“We have the highest case rate of any county in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Cody said. “Just today, we had 760 new cases, far shattering any previous record by over 200 cases.”
And that, Cody warned, was without the expected surge of cases triggered by Thanksgiving travel and gatherings.
“What we do today or what we don’t do today may be a matter of life and death for many living in our county,” she said. “Our case rates and hospitalizations continue to surge.”
The number of patients being treated in county hospitals for COVID-19 has doubled since Nov. 12.
“This pandemic is like a high-speed train,” Cody warned. “Our projections tell us that we are on target to derail by around the third week of December if we don’t apply brakes right now with all our collective might.”