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Doctor explains why ICU bed fluctuations are happening

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – The regional Bay Area’s ICU capacity sits at 4.7%, up from 0.7% just yesterday and 3% last Friday.

That’s based on the ICU capacity across the whole region. Meanwhile, some counties like San Francisco are doing better than others in the region with an ICU capacity of nearly 30%.

Many of us can agree that the fluctuating numbers can be confusing. We’re not alone.

UCSF Dr. Monica Gandhi says this measure doesn’t paint the clearest picture as to what’s going on across the Bay Area region. 

While she recognizes we are in a serious surge, she says there are other metrics that we should pay closer attention to in order to understand how COVID is impacting our hospitals.

On Tuesday, the Bay Area region’s ICU capacity sits at 4.7%.

Just a few days ago, our ICU capacity sat at 3%. Dr. Monica Gandhi explains the rollercoaster of fluctuations.

“This whole ICU capacity thing is a little murky because what happens is people stay in the ICU because there’s no room on the floor or they can’t be discharged out into congregate settings and so it’s actually not a hard measure and so what probably happened is a lot of people got released from the hospital, some people could go out from the ICU. It’s fluctuating for sure and we’re always busy during the winter without COVID,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

According to California’s current guidelines, the state looks at hospital ICU capacities across all counties within a given region and then based on that data, comes up with an ICU capacity percentage that represents the entire region. 

That number is then used to determine what can and cannot operate within the region, so even though the city and county of San Francisco has an ICU capacity of 29%, it doesn’t matter. It’s limited to operations allowed under the entire region’s ICU capacity.

“We are still in a surge. We still have increased hospitalizations in the ICU from COVID-19. Is the Bay Area overwhelmed? The Bay Area is not overwhelmed compared to Southern California. There are places in the Bay Area that are worse off like Santa Clara is than San Francisco and so if we ended up looking nuance by nuance, city by city, it is not as dire as the whole situation can look but it’s a general idea that we’re in a surge,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

While the regional ICU capacity confirms there is a surge happening in the Bay Area, Dr. Ghandi says other metrics like hospitalizations may paint a better picture of how COVID-19 is affecting our hospitals.

“I think that hospitalizations is a good measure because if you are sick enough to have to get to the hospital, that’s a good measure. The ICU thing is a little harder just because we always have ICU need during the winter so I would be looking at hospitalizations more and know that some of it is random and not just associated with COVID,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

Dr. Ganghi says another thing impacting the Bay Area’s ICU fluctuations is the homeless population and not having safe places to send them to once they’re ready for discharge.

Normally they’d be released to congregate settings but right now that’s not allowed so some people who tested positive for COVID end up staying in the hospital longer than they need to.

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