SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Officials in Santa Clara County on Wednesday warned that South Bay hospitals were edging closer to being full from the spike in COVID-19 cases, with ICUs in some areas already at over 90 percent capacity.

Santa Clara County officials spoke at a late Wednesday morning press conference about the stark reality of the county’s current case numbers and looked ahead to possible vaccine distribution within the next few weeks to frontline workers.

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“We continue to be at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity, with typically used beds in our hospitals potentially exceeding capacity by mid-December if the trend continues,” explained Dr. Jennifer Tong, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

As of December 1st, ICU occupancy was at 93 percent at hospitals serving the southern part of the county including East San Jose, Tong said. ICU occupancy was slightly better in other parts of the county, but still extremely high at 84 percent.

“We are especially concerned because none of the hospitals serving south county and East San Jose had more than five ICU beds available as of yesterday,” Tong said. “What this means is the hospitals in our hardest-hit communities have the fewest beds available for those in need.”

Only 44 ICU beds were available countywide, according to officials.

Tong said patients are being redistributed as hospitals are able, but with rising case numbers, those options are becoming more limited.

During the press conference, Tong also spoke about the plan for vaccines, saying the county could receive vaccines within the next few weeks.

The county’s responsibility is solely distribution and storage logistics — who gets the first batch of vaccines is set by the federal
government, with additional state guidelines, said Tong.

Since the initial amount will be limited, vaccines will be prioritized for health care workers, who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19. After that, the priority will be for other frontline workers and communities who have disproportionately been impacted by the pandemic, said Tong.

“It will take months before everyone who wants a vaccine is able to get it,” Tong said.

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The county submitted a detailed plan to the state on Monday outlining vaccine management, community engagement and distribution of COVID-19 and will soon be made public.

What is now confirmed is that the county will receive some doses directly from vaccine manufacturers at county-operated hospitals and some healthcare providers like Kaiser will receive vaccines from manufactures at the direction of the state.

However, is also still too early to tell how many vaccines the county will get for the first batch.

“The number of doses that we will receive will evolve quickly over time since there is more than one vaccine that is scheduled to be reviewed by the FDA over the next two weeks,” Tong said. “So, we do not yet have firm numbers on the exact numbers that we will receive.”

This will also impact the number of ultra-freezers the county will need to store the Pzifer vaccine.

“Literally before coming to the press conference, I was on the phone with a group that was telling me that freezers have arrived on a truck as of yesterday,” Tong said. “Multiple freezers have been installed in parts of the county of buildings that we own and operate, and there are additional freezers that are being purchased and installed by other private healthcare providers.”

Also on Monday, Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said that the new COVID restrictions recently put into place including the order anyone traveling outside of the county to quarantine for 14 days upon their return was instituted to help curb the rising number of cases.

The restrictions in Santa Clara County included a ban on contact sports and reduced capacity inside businesses and facilities open to the public. The ban on contact sports has forced the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford football team to travel outside of the area to continue practicing and playing games.

Williams also detailed some revisions to the directive on travel.

The directive was revised on December 2 to clarify that:

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  • Licensed healthcare professionals, as defined by the order, and all persons working at acute care hospitals, do not need to quarantine following arrival to ensure adequate staffing.
  • Persons who traveled solely for the purpose of performing an essential governmental function do not need to quarantine following arrival.
  • The following persons are required to quarantine, but may leave their home or place of quarantine solely for work:
    • Government employees who perform essential government functions, but only if the government entity would otherwise lack staffing to fulfill the essential function.
    • Essential workers traveling solely for the purpose of performing essential critical infrastructure work, but only if the employer determines it would otherwise lack staffing to perform such work.
  • Persons solely transiting through Santa Clara County and not staying overnight do NOT have to quarantine. This includes people who, for example, have a layover at SJC.
  • Persons traveling to Santa Clara County to obtain services from a healthcare facility are required to quarantine but may leave quarantine to obtain those services.
  • Persons may leave quarantine to comply with a court order or make an appearance in a court of law or administrative proceeding.

Information and guidance on quarantine and resources to assist with quarantine are available at the Santa Clara County Health Department website.