With 75 percent of ICU beds now occupied across the state and 72 percent occupied in the Bay Area, Governor Gavin Newsom warned of a stricter stay-at-home order possibly to come within days for the 51 "Purple" tier counties in California.
Newsom delivered a pandemic briefing Monday afternoon, this time from his home where he remains in quarantine with his family have three of his four children were exposed to a COVID-positive CHP officer last week. Discussing the rapid uptick in COVID hospitalizations statewide, Newsom said that "red flags are flying," and they are no longer "yellow flags," when it comes to the expected winter surge being upon us.
At present, California's overall hospital occupancy is at 59 percent of capacity, and officials project that it will reach 78 percent by Christmas Eve — with regional hospitals in some areas being the biggest pressure points in the system. The Bay Area's hospitals are currently at 58-percent capacity, mirroring the state at large.
Newsom said that it could be a matter of days before a wider stay-at-home/shelter-in-place order like the one we had in March is put into effect. That would potentially mean an end to outdoor dining in the Bay Area — as has already happened in Los Angeles County — and a repeat shutdown for the service industry, including hair and nail salons, gyms and fitness studios.
"We are doing all we can to anticipate the surge," said CA Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, during the same briefing. "But we also need to focus on incoming patients and preventing transmissions."
Ghaly said he and his team had been working with hospitals around the state over the weekend to prepare for higher caseloads, and to address weak spots in the healthcare system, in rural areas and elsewhere.
And he added that the worst is yet to come, given that hospitalizations tend to trail new case upticks by about two weeks. "The high case numbers we've seen in the last week or ten days, has not even begun to impact hospitals," Ghaly said.
Officials project that California's ICU capacity will be overwhelmed by mid-December, and hospitalizations could hit 112 percent of ICU beds available.
Newsom did provide some positive news, namely about California's preparedness for a COVID surge. The state currently has a larger stockpile of N95 masks than the federal government, with 179 million in total, and California has more ventilators on hand than any other state.
The governor also pointed to 11 "warm" surge facilities around the state that can be up and running within 24 to 96 hours, with 1,862 more beds, if necessary.
"If we're talking about more... restrictions... for non-essential services... we have to be more mindful than ever about the economic impact and consequences of these further restrictions," Newsom said. As one way to address economic impacts, he said the state was providing a three-month extension or "float" for deferral of sales tax payments for all businesses owing less than $1 million in taxes.
Over the weekend, the California legislature also approved emergency appropriation for what Newsom called "the beginning of a bridge" grant program — a $500 million fund for making grants of up to $25,000 to small businesses and non-profits that are especially impacted by pandemic lockdowns. Newsom mentioned the hospitality and personal services industries as being "especially" a priority, and there are also $100 million in disaster relief loans available from the state.
And Newsom made a point to remind restaurants about the Great Plates Delivered program, which he said had saved 10,000 service-industry jobs so far this year by reimbursing restaurants 100 percent for providing meals to senior citizens who may not be eligible for other programs like Meals on Wheels, but who are limiting their activities and staying at home.
As of Sunday, the entire Bay Area save for Marin County is in the "Purple" tier, which means that further restrictions to come are likely to impact most of the region.
Newsom did not indicate what day this week any subsequent decision will be made about a stay-at-home order. But as we've seen over the course of the past nine months, when officials provide these warnings, they tend to follow through on the promise of new restrictions.