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CA COVID-19 Update: How ICU Projections Led To Reopening; 'If You Miss A Friend, You Can Go Out To Eat'

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California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly provided an update on COVID-19 in California. You can watch the full press conference above, and read highlights below.

WHY THE STATE LIFTED REGIONAL STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS

Dr. Ghaly offered a more detailed explanation of the decision to lift California's regional stay-at-home order. Regions entered the stay-at-home orders based on current numbers, he said, while reopening is based on four-week ICU projections.

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Ghaly has said the projections are based in part on the fact that around 12% of current cases will be hospitalized in 12 days, then 12% of that group will become ICU patients. Ghaly went through how the regional stay-at-home order that went into effect in early December helped to push down COVID-19 numbers, including spread and hospitalizations, and thus saving lives.

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How hospitalization numbers were affected by the state's stay-at-home orders, according to the California Department of Public Health. (California Department of Public Health)

There are currently 54 counties in the strictest reopening tier, purple, including all of Southern California. There are just three counties in the red tier, and just one county in the orange tier, with none in the least restrictive yellow tier.

HOW ICU PROJECTIONS ARE MADE

The state's four-week projections are based on:

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  • Current estimated ICU capacity
  • Current community transmission
  • Current regional case rates
  • Proportion of cases admitted to the ICU

Current projections show 33.3% availability of ICU beds in the Southern California region four weeks from now.
Here are the formulas used to make those projections:

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The formulas used to make ICU projections by the California Department of Public Health. (California Department of Public Health)

WHAT CAN I DO NOW THAT THINGS ARE REOPENING?

Dr. Ghaly described what people can do now in purple tier counties with stay-at-home orders lifted. These activities include, according to a slide shown by Ghaly:

  • "If you miss a friend, you can go out to eat outside at a restaurant together"
  • "Visit a salon for a haircut or nail services with some modifications"
  • "Kids (and adults) can visit a local park, wearing masks, to play"

But he stressed the importance of continuing to stay physically distanced and keep your mask on as much as possible.
MOVING TO AGE-BASED VACCINATION DISTRIBUTION, BUT STILL AWAITING DETAILS

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The state has been working on simplifying its vaccine eligibility framework, according to Government Operations Secretary Yolanda Richardson. Those getting immunized now are health workers and those 65 and older, and after them will come education and child care workers, first responders, and food and agriculture workers.

Gov. Newsom said yesterday that after that group, the process will change and be based on age. The California Department of Public Health says this will allow the state to scale up capacity, and will help get the vaccine to disproportionately impacted communities.

Newsom said Ghaly would provide more details on the age-based approach today, but he didn't. It turns out that "[T]he forthcoming age ranges have yet to be announced, and may vary based on the amount of vaccine supply," according to Darrel Ng, spokesman for the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. "For example," he told us in an emailed statement, "lots of supply may mean a bigger age range becoming eligible at one time, whereas continued limited supply may mean a smaller age range."

We asked Ng where younger people with preexisting medical conditions will fit in the new approach, but he has not yet responded.

The state is also working to standardize vaccine information and data, as well as addressing supply by both administering what the state has as quickly as possible and seeking additional supply. The state plans to build a statewide vaccination network, Richardson said. It is looking into using third-party administrators to help with vaccine distribution.

The network will include public health systems, pharmacies, health systems, public hospitals, community health clinics, pop-up and mobile sites. The state plans to allocate vaccine to those who are vaccinating quickly and safely, to help speed up the process.

As part of the equity goals, the state will be working to allocate vaccines to make sure there is access for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

LATEST COVID-19 NUMBERS

There were 17,028 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, which Ghaly said may reflect some weekend testing delays. But it still came in below the seven-day average of 22,317 new cases per day, which he cited as a positive sign.

The test positivity rate over the past two weeks is currently 9%, with the seven-day positivity down to 7.9%. The 14-day positivity rate is down one-third over the past two weeks, from 13.5% on January 12.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down 20.4% over the past two weeks, while COVID-19 ICU hospitalizations are down 10.6% over the same period.

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