'We're on the downslope': Bay Area ICU capacity dramatically improves but exiting stay-at-home order still unclear

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A stunning turn with regional ICU availability numbers. The Bay Area is suddenly at 23.4% capacity after spending a couple of weeks in the single digits, according to state data released this weekend. ICU availability has become the number the state relies on when it comes to issuing stay-at-home orders, the threshold is 15%.

"This could potentially be the beginning of the end," said UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford.

RELATED: California Governor Gavin Newsom expected to lift strict stay-at-home orders, sources say
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In a letter to restaurant owners, the California Restaurant Association announced that officials with Gov. Newsom's office plan to lift the stay-at-home order in all regions of the state on Monday.

Those encouraging words from Dr. Rutherford, after Bay Area's ICU capacity saw a dramatic improvement from 6% last week to more than 23% on Saturday.

"All this stuff suggests we're on the downslope of the third wave of the pandemic, finally," said Rutherford.

Doctors confirm COVID-19-related hospitalizations have dropped at Zuckerburg San Francisco General Hospital.

"Percentages of ICU patients are staying down so overall that's given us capacity, it's very encouraging news compared to where we were one week ago," said Dr Christopher Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg SF General Hospital.

That's when COVID-19 hospitalizations were seeing a dramatic spike.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases are down in SF, but doctors fear new variant could cause surge any day
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COVID-19 cases are going down in San Francisco, but doctors are not letting their guard down. There is concern as new variants of the virus have been spotted across the globe, causing a deadly spread.

Now the big question -- when will the state's stay-at-home order be lifted for the Bay Area? That's still unclear.

Sacramento, where ICU numbers are worse at 11.9%, is no longer in lockdown.

In a statement to ABC7 News, the California Dept. Of Public health said: "We see promising signs that California is slowly emerging from the most intense stage of this pandemic, it's important to note that a region's exit from the regional stay at home order is based on 4-week ICU projections, not current ICU capacity."

"Well, wait a minute here," said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa.

Canepa says those state projections need to be clear and less confusing.

"The bottom line, we need to make sure - the state needs to make sure that in their guidance, they are consistent."

RELATED: Latest Bay Area ICU capacity totals

Pleasanton Hairstylist Lila Robinson is anxious to re-open and re-start her career.

But doctors warn, things can't improve or re-open if everyone stops taking precautions.

"It is good reason for encouragement, but not reason to let our guard down just yet," said Colwell.

Colwell says COVID-19 transmission rates are still high so keep wearing masks and avoid gatherings.

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