July 16, 2024

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Coronavirus CA: Latest on vaccine, ICU space, new cases

A vaccine could be in the arms of health care workers within days, but California is still reckoning with an immense surge of COVID-19 activity that has already pushed hospitals to critically low capacity levels.

And there’s little to suggest that the crisis will ease in the immediate future.

First, the good news: Pfizer’s vaccine, which was developed and cleared in record time as part of a global effort to accelerate the end of the coronavirus pandemic, is on the way in California. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted it emergency use authorization Friday, and an independent panel of scientists put together by California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada on Sunday gave it the green light for use in those states, agreeing on its safety and high efficacy.

Shipping is underway now, with doses expected to arrive early in the week, possibly as soon as today in some parts of California.

In Sacramento, some of the first vials will be stored in special freezers at UC Davis Medical Center. From there, they’ll be distributed to hospitals throughout the region. A few other hospitals will receive their own, direct shipments.

The vaccine will be administered first to front-line health care workers who regularly deal with COVID-19 patients, followed by vulnerable populations such as those in nursing homes, before manufacturing and distribution can scale up enough to make it available for the general public.

Many of those doctors and nurses are plenty eager to roll up their sleeves, 10 months into the world’s worst pandemic in more than a century.

Now for the bad news, of which there is unfortunately plenty: COVID-19 infections, the rate of tests returning positive, the number of hospitalized virus patients, the number of those patients in intensive care units and coronavirus deaths are all continuing relentless growth in the Golden State.

New cases and hospitalizations are expanding to new record highs on essentially a daily basis, and it’ll likely take months until vaccine availability is widespread enough to have an impact on these curves. Because of this, health leaders continue to urge heavy precautions, including mask use, social distancing and avoiding gatherings as much as possible, all in efforts to ensure that the current surge is the last major one of the pandemic.

Where does ICU capacity stand in California?

The California Department of Public Health reported on Sunday that statewide ICU capacity has fallen to 7.4%, less than half of the 15% benchmark that the state has instituted as both a warning flag and a trigger for tighter restriction protocols.

The situation remains worst in the San Joaquin Valley — which hit 0% on Saturday before recovering to 1.5% on Sunday — and in Southern California, which is now at 4.2%.

Those two combine for more than 27 million residents. They, along with the roughly 3 million people in the 13-county Greater Sacramento area, are subject to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent stay-at-home order, which bestows strict business and gathering restrictions on geographic regions once ICU capacity falls below 15%. San Joaquin Valley and Southern California triggered the restrictions the weekend of Dec. 5-6, and Greater Sacramento triggered it last Wednesday.

The two other regions are the Bay Area, where ICU space has stayed above 15% but where five counties already initiated their own local orders tightening restrictions more than a week ago; and Northern California, which still had 29% ICU availability as of Sunday.

Restrictions for the more than 30 million Californians in impacted regions include bans on restaurant dining, both indoor and outdoor; shutdowns of numerous non-essential businesses including barbershops and salons; and a 20% capacity limit on retail stores.

The stay-at-home order keeps counties within those restrictions for a minimum of three weeks. For Sacramento, the end of this three-week window will coincide with the end of 2020. State health officials will then assess the ICU capacity situation “approximately twice a week,” CDPH says on the state’s COVID-19 website.

When the stay-at-home order expires in a region due to improving ICU capacity, counties will still be subject to the color-coded tier system. That reopening framework had 54 of the state’s 58 counties combining for 99.9% of California’s population in the purple tier, the strictest of its four tiers, as of last week’s update.

Case rates, hospitalizations expand on all-time highs

As hospitals scramble to treat the sickest of virus patients and expand staffing and other resources for their ICUs, patient totals continue to grow explosively statewide.

The total for confirmed, hospitalized COVID-19 cases has boomed from 9,700 to 13,000 in the past week, with the total in intensive care growing from about 2,300 to 2,800.

The total of virus patients in hospital beds has grown by a net of more than 400 patients for six straight days, state data show. This means hospital admissions are far outpacing the rate at which COVID-19 patients are being released or dying.

Just as worrying, cases are flooding in faster than ever. California recorded more than 210,000 cases in the past week for an average of 30,000 a day — more than triple the peak rolling average from the summer surge.

While testing has expanded, with the state on several recent days processing more than 300,000, the test positivity rate has continued to rise sharply and is now at 10.4% for the past two weeks. That’s the highest two-week rate since April, when the state’s testing infrastructure for COVID-19 was still in its infancy.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly has said that about 12% of people with the virus will end up hospitalized within two weeks of being reported and, of those, 30% will end up in ICUs. For the past week’s 210,000 cases, that’d mean more than 25,000 ending up hospitalized and nearly 7,600 requiring intensive care by about Christmas.

The two-week daily average of 25,000 is double what it was on Thanksgiving — a holiday pointed to as a probable source of virus spread as many Americans convened and dined with loved ones, despite health officials’ pleas not to hold multi-household gatherings. Holidays remain a point of concern. Hanukkah began last week, Christmas is 11 days away and New Year’s celebrations are less than three weeks out.

The death curve is now skyrocketing as well, heading toward record levels. The rolling 14-day average for COVID-19 fatalities has jumped from 62 to 132 in the past two weeks, state data show. The state peaked at 142 deaths a day in mid-August.

To date, more than 1.55 million Californians have tested positive for the disease and nearly 21,000 have died, according to CDPH.

Capital region: 900 dead in six-county Sacramento area

Coronavirus numbers across the six-county Sacramento area continue to grow exponentially. Nearly 74,000 residents have tested positive and at least 902 have died of the virus since the start of the health crisis.

Thousands of those infections are still considered active, several hundred are hospitalized and dozens are in intensive care units across Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

All six counties have recently reported test positivity above the statewide rate of 10.4%. Sutter and Yuba had rates above 17%, while the other four counties’ rates were in the neighborhood of 12%, state and local health office data show.

Sacramento County has reported a total of 47,473 infections since the start of the pandemic, and 670 people have died of COVID-19.

The county on Friday reported 994 new cases and increased the death toll by 11.

State data from Sunday showed a record-high 456 coronavirus patients in Sacramento County hospitals, including 87 in intensive care. The county maintained 70 ICU beds, up from 57 the previous day, as hospitals work to expand surge capacity.

Local health officials say more than 100 people died of the virus in November, though death confirmations are still continuing to come in for that month.

Placer County health officials have reported a total of 8,879 infections and 92 deaths, last updated Friday. Three fatalities were reported Friday.

Placer County hospitals had 173 COVID-19 patients including 17 in ICUs, with three ICU beds available, state data updated Sunday showed.

Yolo County has reported a total of 6,117 infections and 89 deaths, reporting 67 new cases on Sunday.

Yolo on its local dashboard reports that it has 30 hospitalized COVID-19 patients including 12 in ICUs, with state data showing Yolo with two ICU beds remaining available.

El Dorado County has reported 3,754 positive test results and eight deaths. On Friday, 126 new infections were reported.

Health officials say 25 people are hospitalized with the virus, 10 in ICUs. State data shows seven ICU beds available in El Dorado County, up from three on Saturday.

In Sutter County, 4,657 people have been infected and 33 have died. On Thursday, 73 were confirmed infected and one was reported dead. On Friday, 82 infections and two deaths were reported. County health officials reported a daily record for infections with 204 new cases on Tuesday.

Neighboring Yuba County has reported 2,820 infections and 10 dead, with 81 new infections on Thursday and 40 on Friday. Its daily infection record was matched on Sunday, when 87 people were confirmed to have coronavirus. On Dec. 2, the same number were confirmed infected.

The lone hospital in the Yuba-Sutter bi-county region, Adventist-Rideout, had a record-high 62 coronavirus patients including 15 in the ICU. Three ICU beds remained available.

The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, Vincent Moleski and Sawsan Morrar contributed to this story.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.