While Southern California remains in coronavirus crisis, San Francisco seeing signs of hope

Lotta's Fountain in downtown San Francisco glows on a rainy, chilly evening.
Lotta’s Fountain in downtown San Francisco glows on a rainy, chilly evening.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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While Southern California remains in crisis over spiraling coronavirus cases that have pushed hospitals to the breaking point, the San Francisco Bay Area is beginning to show signs of improvement.

In San Francisco, about 100 intensive care unit beds are available for a city with fewer than 900,000 residents, while L.A. County has about half as many available ICU beds for a county of more than 10 million people.

Following the stay-at-home order that went into effect on Dec. 6, San Francisco officials estimate they have averted more than 500 deaths through the spring, and prevented even more people from needing hospitalization.


“Look what that did to our numbers, a decline of an estimate of 1,200 fewer hospitalizations … and over 500 deaths averted,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco‘s director of public health. “Now, we need to continue to make this progress continue.”

Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remain in the California COVID-19 red zone, with 0% available ICU beds. But in the San Francisco Bay Area, officials believe the restrictions have stabilized the region’s remaining supply of available ICU capacity, which has been hovering around 10%. The greater Sacramento area is even better off, with available ICU capacity stable at 19%.

San Francisco is also doing better compared with its other Bay Area neighbors, with the city having the second-lowest case count in the region, “thanks to our dedication to staying at home,” Colfax said.

San Francisco has already shrunken the effective reproductive rate of the coronavirus. On Dec. 5, every coronavirus-infected person in San Francisco was on average transmitting the virus to 1.45 other people, but by Saturday, that number had fallen to 1.13. If that number falls below 1, that means the virus will begin to decrease in prevalence throughout the city.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in California.

“As we lower the reproductive rate, we see fewer sick people, requiring fewer ICU beds, and fewer people dying,” Colfax said. “By staying home and not gathering, we have been able to prevent hundreds of hospitalizations and save so many lives.”

On a per capita basis, the Bay Area has fewer than half as many coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents as Southern California. For the most recent seven-day period available, the Bay Area reported about 386 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, while Southern California had 838 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.


“We are still far from out of the woods,” Colfax said. “We still have more cases — far more cases — per day than we had in the previous two surges. And we also have to wait until January to see the overall impacts of these pivotal holiday weeks when it is likely that people gather.”

“As we head into this New Year’s Eve, let’s remember that the power is in our hands to continue to turn the surge around,” Colfax said. “Families in San Francisco will have a chance to spend next New Year’s Eve together in good health because of the choices we make this week.… Please wait till New Year’s of 2022 for your traditional New Year’s celebration.”

Among his advice: “Do not gather with people outside your immediate household. Do not travel. Keep your distance and cover your face with a mask when and if you have to go out,” Colfax said.

San Francisco is also requiring people who have traveled outside the Bay Area to self-quarantine for 10 days upon their return or arrival in the city to monitor themselves for signs of illness.