AS coronavirus cases continue to climb and ICU capacities reach critical lows, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday, Dec. 7 that Southern California — along with the San Joaquin Valley — is on modified lockdown per the regional stay-at-home order announced last week.
The plan originally stated that any of the five regions in the state that reach 15% or lower ICU capacity are automatically issued the stay-at-home order.
Southern California’s ICU capacity is currently at 10.9%, meaning that the counties of Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura are currently under the modified stay-at-home order.
San Joaquin Valley — which includes Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne — currently has an ICU capacity at 6.3%.
The state’s overall remaining ICU capacity, however, has dropped to 14%.
Newsom described the new order as an “emergency brake” to curb the exponential spread of the virus in California where ICU capacity is dire. The order is to remain in effect for the next three weeks, and regions will be able to lift the order on Dec. 28 if the ICU capacity projections for January are above or equal 15%.
“This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of the pandemic,” Newsom said. “If there was ever any time to put aside your doubt, to put aside your skepticism, to put aside your cynicism, to put aside your ideology [and] to put aside any consideration accept this: Lives are in the balance. Lives will be lost unless we do more than we’ve ever done.”
What does this stay-at-home order mean?
With the issuance of the order to Southern California this week, all bars, wineries, nail salons, hair salons and barbershops and other personal care services are to close.
Restaurants can remain open only for takeout and delivery; indoor and outdoor dining options, which is believed to be a major source for superspreading, are shut down.
Another source of the super spread, large gatherings and parties with people from different households, is also being more closely monitored with this new order.
Unlike the first stay-at-home order issued in March, this new order states that retail stores are allowed to be open at 20% capacity. In his remarks last week announcing the new order, Newsom recognized that the first stay-at-home order unfairly favored big box retailers, which were allowed to stay open with little restrictions compared to small businesses.
Non-essential travel is “temporarily restricted statewide” and hotels and motels are now only allowed for guests traveling for an “essential reason,” including for work, school or a family emergency.
Regarding the enforcement of these rules, Sacramento is largely leaving those decisions to local authorities, but Newsom emphasized that uncooperative counties would see consequences.
“If you’re unwilling to adopt the protocols to support the mitigation and the reduction of the spread of this disease, we’re happy to redirect those dollars to counties that feel differently,” Newsom added.
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed last week that the LA County Sheriff Department will target “super spreader events, where people are congregating and there’s no social distancing [and] no mask-wearing.”
Villanueva’s remark comes a week after Los Angeles instituted its own local stay-at-home order that prohibits large gatherings. On Saturday, Dec. 5 the LASD arrested 158 people at a party in Palmdale, a “super spreader for COVID” that officers said had more than 100 maskless people packed inside the house.
Looking back and moving forward
This year has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the various stay-at-home (or, shelter-in-place) orders that governments have triggered to try to mitigate viral transmission.
In turn, this has resulted in extreme economic downturn as businesses suffered, tens of thousands of workers laid off and millions of residents frustrated at stringent rules limiting access to public life.
California previously operated on a color-coded tiered plan. Counties that successfully reduced viral transmission (through a series of measures, like 7-day averages, hospital bed availability, and daily case and death rates) were allowed to advance to less restrictive tiers on the plan.
However, as soon as businesses began offering in-store services and restaurants began expanding its inside dining options, positive COVID-19 cases and deaths mounted. LA County, one of the worst counties in terms of COVID-19 minimization, continues to break daily records as the holiday season threatens to double the current counts.
Most notably, LA County set new records for coronavirus hospitalizations every day of December so far.
The new regional stay-at-home order, in fact, was a response to the lack of compliance among Southern Californians who have been ignoring social distancing and public health protocol regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Places like Pasadena and Orange County continue to defy the public health guidelines limiting restaurant and personal services, risking potential viral increases among its communities as the annual flu season looms.