Intensive care availability at Bay Area hospitals fell to the lowest levels yet, dropping from 7.4% to just 3.5% as of Wednesday, according to state data.

Statewide, ICU capacity remained at 0%, including in the two hardest hit regions, Southern California and San Joaquin Valley. ICU capacity fell in the Sacramento region from 11.1% to 9.2%, and ticked up slightly in the Northern California region from 24.4% to 25.4%.

Also on Thursday, state health officials moved to speed up the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and avoid wasting doses, issuing formal recommendations that allow hospitals and local health departments to give vaccines to lower-risk people.

And a virus test that is used throughout California came under scrutiny, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert to patients and health care providers of the risk of false results. The Curative SARS-Cov-2 test is particularly prone to false-negative results, FDA warned. The pop-up testing service, which uses self-administered swabs, tests at the San Francisco Ferry Building and also operates Los Angeles County’s prime testing site at Dodger Stadium.

The Bay Area will remain under the regional stay-at-home order until at least Friday, and the order may be extended depending on what ICU capacity projections for the next four weeks. Those projections will be announced Saturday.

0% ICU availability does not mean there are no ICU beds left, but it does mean that many hospitals have run out of licensed ICU beds and have activated what they call surge plans. That involves using other beds or areas of the hospital to care for ICU patients, and bringing in additional staff.

Hospitals during flu season often tap into surge plans, but the duration and severity of the coronavirus have put unprecedented pressure on hospitals, particularly around staffing. Health care workers are exhausted, and many are out of commission with the virus themselves. And the extra staff that hospitals would normally turn to during flu season have been deployed to coronavirus hot spots around the country.

“We’re doing fine right now, we know how to be creative and carefully and safely take care of our patients, but it’s not an infinite resource,” Dr. Karin Shavelson, chief medical officer at MarinHealth. “We don’t have an extra pool of health care workers and that’s why its imperative that we crush this current wave by staying home and social distancing and wearing masks.”

Cases and deaths

The last two weeks has been the deadliest period yet for the Bay Area and the state since the pandemic began. In the Bay Area, an average of 36 people are dying from COVID-19 each day — up from 29 last week. The figures correspond to the first four days of this week, Jan. 3 to Jan. 6, compared to the previous seven days.

Statewide, deaths are also surging: an average of 382 Californians are dying from COVID-19 each day, up from 332 last week.

New coronavirus cases are still on the rise, albeit not as quickly as they were during much of November and December. The Bay Area reported an average 4,390 new daily cases this week, up 17% from 3,752 cases last week. Statewide, average new daily cases rose this week to 44,532, up 22% compared to last week.

An outbreak at a Kaiser hospital in San Jose over the holidays — possibly caused by an employee wearing an air-powered costume that may have spread infected droplets inside the facility — prompted county health officials Tuesday to fine Kaiser $43,000 for not reporting 43 cases within the required time frame. To date, 60 cases have been reported and one person has died.


State health officials Thursday issued formal vaccine recommendations that allow local health departments to offer vaccines to people in Phase 1b after everyone in Phase 1a who wants a vaccine has gotten one.

The state has received about 2 million doses of vaccine so far, and administered about a quarter of them, or 530,000. Most of those are first doses, but health care providers have started to inject the second dose for some health care workers who were among the earliest recipients when vaccines first became available in mid-December. Both vaccines that are currently available, made by Pfizer and Moderna, come in two doses, given three or four weeks apart.

Most hospitals and health departments are currently vaccinating people in Phase 1a, which includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. While there is no concrete timeline for when Phase 1b — essential workers and people 75 and older, and then people 65 and older — vaccinations will begin statewide, some Bay Area counties are hoping for late January or early February.

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Cat_Ho


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