CBS San Francisco Staff Report

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — State public health chief Dr. Mark Ghaly on Tuesday said that California’s COVID positivity and hospitalization rates remained dangerously high, with coronavirus hospitalizations increasing 71% in just two weeks.

READ MORE: Afghan Refugee Who Moved Family To NorCal Shot Dead In San Francisco While Working As Driver

At one point, Ghaly cautioned that if transmission rates remained high, the state’s planned three-week stay-at-home orders in respect to ICU capacity could be extended to six or even nine weeks.

Over the last 72 hours, California is averaging more 25,000 new cases a day. The positivity rate has soared from 3.4 percent on Nov. 7 to 8.4 percent on Monday. There were also 59 new deaths.

During his Tuesday update on the state’s response to the pandemic, California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly noted that there were 23,272 new cases confirmed Tuesday, a number that was slightly below the state’s current 7-day average of 23,503. He noted that the 7-day average has more than doubled just in the last 15 days.

“You may ask why the 23,272 [was down], maybe that’s reassuring because it is lower than numbers of 25 or even 30 thousand that we’ve reported earlier,” said Ghaly. “These numbers are a little lower than some of the other trends, but I expect tomorrow to be significantly higher, reflecting the normal amount of reporting that we’ve seen.”

The state reported nearly 300,000 tests on Monday, with 296,424 tests administered. The state’s 7-day positivity rate rose to 10.1%, with the 14-day positivity rate rising to 8.7 percent.

California’s hospitalization rate has also spiked to record levels, according to Dr. Ghaly.

“Almost 71% increase in the last 14 days, for hospitalizations, our highest number ever for COVID hospitalizations at just over 10,500,” Ghaly said.

COVID-19 ICU hospitalizations have risen 68.7% over the last two weeks and on Tuesday stood at 2,417 cases.

Last week, the state was divided by health officials into five hospital regions. Once a region dips before 15 percent ICU bed availability, tough new business and lifestyle restrictions go into place within 48 hours.

In terms of regions that had fallen below the state’s 15% threshold of ICU capacity triggering a lockdown, the only two areas that were under the regional stay-at-home order as of Tuesday were San Joaquin Valley (at 5.6% capacity, down from 6.3%) and Southern California (at 10.1% capacity, down from 10.9%).

In those regions, restaurant dining is banned, beauty and barber shops closed, bars shuttered, store capacity reduced and other businesses dramatically impacted.

According to state health officials, several hospitals in Los Angeles County and others in San Diego, Imperial and Fresno counties are close to running out of intensive care beds that are needed for the sickest patients. That has the state scrambling to create more space and staffing to take care of COVID patients and others seeking emergency treatment for things like broken arms.

READ MORE: Man Arrested In Petaluma for Possession of Loaded Firearm in Public Place

California has requested nearly 600 health care workers to help in ICUs through a contracting agency and the federal government. It’s starting a two-day program to train registered nurses to care for ICU patients and setting up links for doctors to consult remotely on ICU patients.

While the San Francisco Bay Area was at 25.7 percent ICU capacity on Monday, health directors from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco counties and the city of Berkeley already have preemptively put into place the tough new restrictions on local residents and businesses.

As of Tuesday, the Bay Area region’s capacity had dropped slightly to 24.5%. Greater Sacramento was at 18.8% and the Northern California region was at 25%.

Dr. Ghaly reiterated the reasons behind the current shutdown order for the two areas where the ICU capacity had dropped below 15%.

“Why a regional stay at home order? The fact is that transmission is now so widespread across our state, that most all non-essential activities create a serious risk for transmission,” said Ghaly. “Europe is a bit in front of us and they have demonstrated some actions that we can learn from. And part of our stay at home order has learned from some other experiences.”

Ghaly pointed out the success of nationwide closures in Belgium — where the positivity rate fell from 21% to 8% in just three weeks — and England, which saw a 30 to 50% drop in positivity rate after a four-week closure.

“The top of our message is, as much as you can stay at home, we know that it works; we know that we bring transmission rates down and move back into the Blueprint for a Safer Economy that we’ve been using for the large part of the last three months,” Ghaly said.

Ghaly also reiterated the importance of the travel restriction component of the stay-at-home order that Southern California and San Joaquin County are currently under, saying that hotels and vacation rentals should not be renting to people in those regions, except for essential purposes.

“Again, overall we want Californians to stay home, and that’s statewide … Even if you’re in a county or in a community that isn’t under the regional stay-at-home order, we ask you to consider canceling travel plans, discouraging others to come visit you,” said Ghaly. “We know that’s hard. We know these are difficult choices to make, especially 8 or 9 months into our response.”

When Ghaly was asked what state officials were doing to address the staffing shortages at Central Valley hospitals being hardest hit by the current case surge, he said that officials were doing their best to accommodate the requests.

“We’re fulfilling what we can, but we know that it’s getting harder,” said Ghaly. “Staff is our main scarce resource that our requests both across the state and in the nation are hard to fulfill because of what’s happening across America with COVID.”

Ghaly said the state was reaching out to as many people through the state’s Health Corps program to meet staffing needs. He also reiterated the importance of residents abiding by health officials’ recommendations to bring case rates down.

MORE NEWS: San Francisco Sees 3,000 Car Break-Ins in 1 Month; 'It's Out of Control' 

“In order for us to really get through this difficult time, we need the actions of our communities and our citizens to make decisions to reduce transmission overall so we can get through not just what might be a tough three weeks, but hopefully preventing three weeks from turning into six or nine weeks if transmission rates stay as high as they are.”