Even as California works to significantly ramp up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, much of the state will remain under the state's strict stay-at-home order.
Three of the state's five state-designated regions placed under the order, where ICU capacity had fallen below 15%, were still very much in the danger zone, prompting a continuation of the restrictions on business activities and gatherings, said state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly during his weekly Tuesday press briefing.
Those regions include the Bay Area, where ICU capacity is at 4.7%, as well as Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where capacity has been stuck at zero for weeks. Tuesday afternoon, the state lifted the order in the Greater Sacramento region. The relatively sparsely populated region of Northern California, where ICU capacity has recently dropped sharply, to 17.6%, remains free of the extra restrictions.
The state determines a region's status using a four-week projection of ICU rates based on current case numbers, "because we know today's cases, today's transmission environment is going to end up in the hospitals in a few weeks," he explained.
But recent case rates, he added, have given some cause for at least tentative optimism.
Yesterday, the state reported just under 36,500 new cases, as compared to the seven-day average of over 42,000 cases, with coronavirus related hospitalizations rising by 5.5% over the last 14 days, the lowest rate of increase since October, Ghaly said.
"This is promising news," he said. "Of course, we've been talking about the hope that we'd see a lower post-holiday surge than we did see post Thanksgiving, and we're beginning to see indications that that's actually the case."
Meanwhile, he added, within the last week, new COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state have decreased from an average of about 3,500 a day to 2,500, the "biggest signal to me that things are beginning to flatten and potentially improve."
Those encouraging figures could portend an end to some of the regional stay-at-home orders, Ghaly said. He noted that officials were plugging in the data from the last 24 hours and would be providing an update Wednesday if the state decides to lift restrictions for any of the regions, allowing them to return to the previous color-coded tier system.
Ghaly cautioned, however, that the state, which surpassed 30,000 recorded deaths this week, is by no means "out of the woods," and that the worst impacts of recent holiday activities may be felt in the second half of this month.
"We know that there's still a lot of COVID in our communities and that people can easily transmit," he said, urging people to keep their guard up. "I say that if you give COVID an inch, it will take a mile."