Santa Clara County's ICU bed capacity was rapidly filling up this week amid a surge in COVID cases around the region. And with 253 COVID patients currently hospitalized there, 72 of those in intensive care, the county is looking like it will be the first in the Bay Area to run out of room for the severely ill.

According to data from Santa Clara County and the state of California, there were 56 ICU beds available in county hospitals on Wednesday, with another 56 occupied by COVID-positive patients and 222 occupied by other hospital patients. That number dwindled on Thursday, with 72 COVID patients in ICU beds in the county.

Through the first half of November, just over half of the ICU beds in Santa Clara County remained available — hovering between 52 and 53 percent, as shown in the chart below. But just in the last week, that availability has slipped rapidly down to 30 percent or lower. (The red line shows remaining ICU bed capacity every day since October 28.)

Earlier this week, Santa Clara County officials were sounding more alarm bells ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, and warning businesses of a crackdown on distancing enforcement ahead of Black Friday.

"We’ve had the highest hospitalization rates we've ever had since March," said Public Health Department spokesperson Betty Duong, speaking to KTVU. "Our hospitalization rates have increased by 88 percent in the last week. These are alarming numbers."

Hospitalizations are climbing across the Bay Area, but bed capacity issues appear to be arriving first in Santa Clara County, which has had the highest cumulative COVID case count in the nine-county area for much of the pandemic. The count currently stands at 32,454.

Health officials have consistently warned that the relatively low mortality rate seen from the coronavirus in the Bay Area has much to do with available staff and capacity at hospitals — with the quality of care declining the more crowded hospitals become, as doctors and nurses have less time to devote to each individual patient.

In Alameda County, which has the second-highest cumulative case total with 28,225, there are currently 211 COVID patients hospitalized, with 46 in ICU beds. That marks an 80% increase in hospitalizations in the county from just 10 days earlier, when 117 COVID patients were in hospitals. Available bed capacity in Alameda County, however, stands at 42%, similar to the capacity available there in early October.

San Francisco also saw a jump in hospitalizations in the last 10 days, from 51 on November 17 to 74 on Thanksgiving Day — a 45% uptick.

There are currently 821 hospitalized COVID patients in the Bay Area, up 54% from 10 days ago when there were 532.

Previously: As COVID Surge Hits Bay Area Hospitals, Health Officials Brace for the Worst

Photo: Marcelo Leal