An empty Downtown San Mateo during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo via Flickr)

As hospitals strain under surging COVID-19 cases, San Mateo County officials on Wednesday urged people to stay home for the holidays.

The county’s Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan and County Manager Mike Callagy said during a media briefing that the county’s COVID-19 numbers were extremely concerning.

“We haven’t been able to mitigate the increase that began around the Thanksgiving holiday time,” Srinivasan said. “The strains on hospital capacity are too real.”

San Mateo County’s COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations have been on the rise since early November, according to state and county data. The county has seen record-high case numbers in December.

In the last week, the county had 2,602 new lab-confirmed cases for a daily average of 372 cases, the highest for any seven-day period.

There were 183 COVID-19 deaths in the county as of Tuesday, with 13 occurring in the last two weeks. Over 100 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, with 62 occupying intensive care unit beds, leaving nine ICU beds available. An additional 88 ICU surge beds are available, depending on staffing.

Srinivasan said surge plans were being executed by every hospital in the county to meet the rising need.

She said most transmission is taking place through household gatherings and asymptomatic transmission. As a result, many people unknowingly spread the virus to family members.

“This is not about blame,” Srinivasan said. “We just have to get through in a different way with everyone staying home as much as possible.”

Another factor contributing to the virus’ spread is that frontline workers who are exposed may return to crowded households, causing spread throughout their families.

Srinivasan urged people to stay at home, avoid mixing households and self-quarantine at the earliest sign of a potential COVID-19 exposure.

“With the level of spread throughout our community, we all have to adhere to the state order that is being imposed,” Srinivasan said.

San Mateo County joined the Bay Area’s mandatory stay-at-home order, which further restricts many businesses and activities, starting Thursday at 11:59 p.m.

The state imposed the order as the Bay Area’s regional ICU availability dropped to 12.9 percent, below the state’s 15 percent threshold. The order restricts private gatherings, dining and other activities for at least three weeks.

Looking forward, officials are hopeful about the vaccine but worried about the surge that the Christmas season could bring.

“We are extremely concerned that we’ll see a surge in the middle of a surge,” Callagy, the county manager, said. “This should be a real indication to everyone out there of what can occur and has occurred when people gather.”

“We, in the strongest terms possible, are asking people not to gather this holiday season,” he said.

Callagy noted that getting tested and receiving a negative result does not give people a license to gather.

“The testing is only a point in time type of test,” Callagy said. “In every situation that you come into contact with someone, you should feel like you have COVID or they have COVID and take the necessary precautions. That means masks, social distancing, washing hands.”

Callagy said the county would continue to use its COVID-19 business compliance team to educate businesses about their regulations. So far, the team has visited 450 businesses, given 58 written warnings and issued five administrative citations to repeat violators.

The county will also enforce the regional stay-at-home order as much as possible, but Callagy asked each individual to take action, follow the rules, and stay safe.

“We’re going to prevail upon the goodwill of everyone to understand how serious this is. We cannot do it without them,” Callagy said.

People can view Wednesday’s announcement of the order at

For more information on the new regional stay-at-home order, visit