SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly on Tuesday announced the stay-at-home order for most of the state would remain in place as ICU capacity is still at or near zero in the affected regions.

On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom indicated the stay-at-home orders would likely remain in place in the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions. Northern California is the only one of the five state hospital regions avoiding the order.

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Ghaly said for now, the orders would remain but that health officials were still running the numbers on ICU projections for all the regions and there could be updates later Tuesday or by Wednesday.

“We are actively calculating some of the information from the last 24 hours and may be updating you in the next hours and certainly by tomorrow if any one of these regions does indeed emerge out of that regional stay-at-home order,” said Ghaly.

According to the state COVID-19 website, as of Tuesday, both the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California hospital regions remained at zero percent ICU capacity. The Bay Area region’s ICU capacity had risen several points from only 0.7% to 4.7%, while the Greater Sacramento region was at 9.4%. The Northern California hospital region was still above 15%, but had dropped to its lowest point yet at 17.6%.

However, despite those numbers and what Ghaly said during the Tuesday briefing, the stay-at-home order was later lifted for the Greater Sacramento region.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also tweeted out a video message about the stay-at-home order being lifted.

Once a region emerges from the order, Ghaly said the counties contained in the region would fall under the previous colored tier system based on its test positivity and case rate. Most California counties, including all Bay Area counties, are currently under the Purple Tier indicating widespread infection rate, three counties are in the Red Tier, one county in the Orange Tier and no counties in the Yellow Tier.

Echoing the governor and other health officials, Ghaly said the state appears to have so far avoided the same post-holiday surge that was seen after Thanksgiving. New hospital admissions dropping from about 3,500 each day earlier this month to about 2,500, showing the post-December holiday surge “isn’t as significant as we had anticipated.”

“This is promising news, of course. We’ve been talking about hope that we’d see lower post-holiday surge than we did see post-Thanksgiving,” said Ghaly. “And we’re beginning to see indications that, that it is actually the case.”

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The state’s positivity rate slightly dropped to 13.5% and appears to be leveling off. “Good news here is really stable, bouncing up and down a little bit as we always see, but stable overall which is much better than what we’ve been witnessing, which is a pretty radical increase on that test positivity,” said Ghaly.

Yet recent frightening jumps in new positive cases show the state may simply have brought itself time to prepare for what officials still expect to be an end-of-month peak in part driven by New Year’s celebrations.

The state may have “a little breathing room,” Ghaly said, enough for hospitals to prepare, to ensure they can provide enough oxygen both in medical facilities and when sending patients home, and for 1,000 newly arriving contract medical workers to be augmented by another 1,000 or so before the surge peaks.

“I don’t want to think that we’re out of the woods in any measure,” Ghaly said, adding later that “We’re in the early parts of that holiday surge. It looks encouraging at the moment.”

California now ranks third nationally, behind Texas and New York, surpassing 30,000 COVID deaths. It took California six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

The Trump administration on Tuesday called for states to begin vaccinating people age 65 and over and those under 65 with underlying conditions. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it will no longer hold back the second dose of shots to states because “we now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production.”

Ghaly said in his afternoon briefing that Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed health officials to meet Tuesday to evaluate the new federal guidance. Ghaly said he hoped to have an announcement in the next 24 hours.

 

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