Holiday Celebrations Could Crush ICU Capacity

Video by County News Center

If you’re planning a gathering during the upcoming holidays, County health officials say you should cancel it.

Gathering with family or friends from outside your household could lead to a COVID-19 surge in cases and hospitalizations, further straining a local critical care health care system already near capacity.

“I know how difficult this time of year is for so many of us. The holidays are supposed to be a time when we get together with family and friends. This year, things must be different,” Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “We know what happens when holidays arrive, and people gather. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase dramatically.”

Since the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed availability for the Southern California region went below 15% and the Regional Stay Home Order went into effect, the situation has continued to worsen.

The ICU bed availability is now zero. The region’s hospitals are being overwhelmed, even after adding more ICU beds.

Here’s what the region experienced in the weeks after Thanksgiving:

  • 44% or about 59,400 of the nearly 146,000 cases since the pandemic’s start occurred after Thanksgiving.
  • Of the more than 5,500 hospitalizations since the pandemic’s start, about 780 or 14% took place after Thanksgiving.
  • Of the 1,350 deaths reported since the pandemic’s start, about 330 or 25% happened after Thanksgiving. At the pace deaths are growing, the region is on track to record 600 additional deaths by the end of January.

“We don’t want to see what happened after Thanksgiving happen again. We just had 39 deaths reported in a single day. That is a new record,” Wooten said. “We must continue to stay apart to get the spread of the virus under control. If we don’t, cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to soar.”

COVID-19 Vaccines Available in the Region:

  • Total doses: 102,550 are available as of Dec. 23, 2020.
  • Pfizer: 29,250 doses; two doses administered three weeks apart.
  • Moderna: 73,300 doses; two doses given four weeks apart.
  • The number of doses does not include federal, military and multi-county entities such as Kaiser, as well as the Pharmacy Partnership Program.

ICU Capacity and Stay Home Order:

  • The current ICU capacity for the Southern California region is now 0.0% and will be updated by the state daily.
  • The Regional Stay Home Order is still in effect and prohibits gatherings of any size with people from other households and adds restrictions for multiple sectors.
  • The order will last for at least three weeks or until the region’s ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15%. The order will be assessed by the state after the three-week period.

Community Setting Outbreaks:

  • 12 new community outbreaks were confirmed on Dec. 22: three in business settings, two at TK-12 school setting, one in a daycare/preschool/childcare setting, one in a grocery setting, one in a health care setting, one in a construction setting, one in emergency services setting, one in a food/beverage processing setting and one in government setting.
  • In the past seven days (Dec. 16 through Dec. 22), 44 community outbreaks were confirmed.
  • The number of community outbreaks remains above the trigger of seven or more in seven days.
  • A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.


  • 31,036 tests were reported to the County on Dec. 22, and the percentage of new laboratory-confirmed cases was 8%.
  • The 14-day rolling average percentage of positive cases is 9.7%. Target is less than 8.0%.
  • The 7-day, daily average of tests is 28,806.
  • People at higher risk for COVID-19 who are with or without symptoms should be tested. People with any symptoms should get tested. Healthcare and essential workers should also get a test, as well as people who have had close contact to a positive case or live in communities that are being highly impacted. Those recently returned from travel, or who participated in holiday gatherings, are also urged to get tested.


  • 2,598 new cases were reported to the County on Dec 22. The region’s total is now 134,696.
  • 5,524 or 4.1% of all cases have required hospitalization.
  • 1,160 or 0.9% of all cases and 21% of hospitalized cases had to be admitted to an intensive care unit.


  • 39 new COVID-19 deaths were reported to the County on Dec. 22, a new record. The region’s total is now 1,350.
  • 20 men and 19 women died between Dec. 9 and Dec. 22, and their ages ranged from mid-40s to mid-90s.
  • All but two had underlying medical conditions.

More Information:

The more detailed data summaries found on the County’s website are updated around 5 p.m. daily.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact