Two weeks ago, in the face of rapidly rising COVID-19 cases and the prospect of holiday gatherings spawning an even faster spread of the virus, the state of California instituted a new stay-at-home order that would be triggered by intensive care unit capacity in five newly defined regions of the state.
Counties maintained the ability to enact these new orders on their own, even if their region had not yet fallen below the state-defined threshold of 15 percent of ICU beds free and available for patients. Several Bay Area counties did just that.
Nevertheless, this week the Bay Area did fall beneath 15 percent ICU availability. As of yesterday — only 13 percent of ICU beds in the region were unoccupied — meaning that four of the state’s five regions have automatically fallen under the state’s new stay-at-home order. The situation is especially dire in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where ICU capacity is at or approaching zero.
The only region that still has enough ICU capacity is our own. As of yesterday, the Northern California region — which includes Mendocino and Lake counties to our south, and Shasta and Lassen counties to our east — still has about a quarter of its ICU beds available.
Nevertheless, in today’s “COVID Minute” — a video feature published regularly by the county’s Joint Information Center — Deputy Health Officer Josh Ennis warns that our own “region” is not an island. COVID patients from Northern California are regularly treated by hospitals in other regions, or even in other states, and the ICU crunch in those places will likely impact our own management of the crisis as well.
“[I]f we wait too long and don’t acknowledge what’s happening around us the dominos can begin to fall, and then we may end up in a more dire situation as a result,” Ennis says.
Transcript of today’s “COVID Minute”:
I’m Dr. Josh Ennis, Deputy Health Officer of Public Health, and this is your COVID Minute.
I’m here today to talk about the ICU capacity metric. As you know, it applies to northern California region and 15% with trigger our regions again the stay at home order.
I want to talk a little bit about how health care patients might move through the hospital system. As you know, ours go south to the Bay Area or to Sacramento. Other parts of region may send to other states, like Reno, Nevada or even southern Oregon.
So if we look at what’s happening in these surrounding regions that receive our patients — the Bay Area, Sacramento Valley — they are already to the point of being below 15%, and some of these jurisdictions are refusing ICU patients. And so if we wait too long and don’t acknowledge what’s happening around us the dominos can begin to fall, and then we may end up in a more dire situation as a result.
So understanding this metric on a regional basis requires knowing what’s happening around us. This has been your COVID Minute.