With COVID-19 patients increasing at area hospitals, Los Angeles County and the rest of Southern California were on the verge of a sweeping state-mandated stay-at-home order Friday that could take effect within days if intensive-care units become overwhelmed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans for the “regional stay-at-home order” on Thursday, saying it will be imposed in areas running low on ICU beds. The order will force the closure of some businesses, while again barring gatherings of people from multiple households.
It was unclear when the order might be imposed, but Newsom said the Southern California region will likely meet the threshold for the order within a matter of days.
The announcement Thursday coincided with Los Angeles County setting another daily record for new coronavirus cases — 7,854. That eclipsed the previous record of 7,593, which was set on Tuesday.
The new cases lifted the county’s cumulative total since the pandemic began to 421,881.
County health officials also announced 44 more deaths, increasing the overall death toll to 7,782, while the number of people hospitalized rose to 2,572.
“This is a health crisis that requires everyone who isn’t already to take and adhere to the personal actions that prevent you from getting or spreading the virus,” county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis told reporters in an online briefing. “… I can’t emphasize this enough. Everyone must take personal steps to protect themselves from getting and spreading this virus to others. Actions need to be taken now and on a daily basis. As the daily cases reported remain high, so does our risk from getting infected in the community.”
The continued rise in hospitalizations across the state prompted Newsom to announce plans for the stay-at-home orders. According to the governor, the orders will be triggered when ICU bed availability in a select region falls below 15%. Although no region met that criteria as of Thursday, Newsom said the Southern California region could meet it in a matter of days.
Unlike the state’s four-tiered coronavirus monitoring system, which grades every county individually, the new stay-at-home order will apply more broadly to five “regions” in the state: Southern California, the Bay Area, the greater Sacramento area, Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley.
“The five regions that we have highlighted, most of these, four out of the five, we anticipate as early as the next day or two … that the greater Sacramento, Northern California regions, as well as San Joaquin Valley and Southern California region will have reached that 15% or less ICU capacity,” Newsom said. “The Bay Area may have a few extra days — our current projections suggest mid-, maybe late-December.”
The Southern California region includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Newsom said ICU admissions due to COVID-19 have spiked by 67% statewide in recent weeks, in conjunction with a surge in cases that has also seen a disturbing rise in fatalities. He said the state reported just 14 deaths on Nov. 2, but now has had back-to-back days of 113 deaths, with nearly 1,000 fatalities in last four days.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” he said. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see the death rate climb, more lives lost.”
When triggered, the stay-at-home order will be in place for three weeks and will bar gatherings of people from different households. Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities will be forced to close:
— indoor and outdoor playgrounds;
— indoor recreational facilities;
— hair salons and barbershops;
— personal care services;
— museums, zoos, and aquariums;
— movie theaters;
— bars, breweries and distilleries;
— family entertainment centers;
— cardrooms and satellite wagering;
— limited services;
— live audience sports; and
— amusement parks.
Schools with waivers will be allowed to remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity. Restaurants will be restricted to takeout and delivery service only. Hotels would be allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support only,” while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services. Entertainment production — including professional sports — would be allowed to continue without live audiences.
Some of those restrictions are already in effect in select counties.
Newsom said the order is “fundamentally predicated on the need to stop gathering with people outside of your household, to do what you can to keep most of your activities outside and, of course, always … wear face coverings, wear a mask.”
Newsom also noted that the state still has a travel advisory in place recommending against non-essential travel and urging people to quarantine when they return to the state. When the regional stay-at-home order is triggered, it will strongly urge residents to cancel any non-essential travel.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, acknowledged there is no real mechanism for enforcing such a travel restriction, but the state will rely on public cooperation.
“We believe that really emphasizing this is what we hope our citizens will do because their communities are at particularly high risk, their hospitals are having difficulty keeping available ICU beds open, that people will restrict their travel statewide,” he said.
Newsom again said the state has 11 medical “surge” facilities on standby to open and provide hospital bed space. One of them, the ARCO/Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, will open Dec. 9, and another is set to open in Imperial County.
Included among the other nine surge centers that could be opened are the Fairview Development Center in Orange County, the Riverside County Fairgrounds, the vacant Sears building in Riverside and Palomar Medical Center in San Diego, Newsom said.
The governor stressed that the pandemic emergency won’t last forever.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine. … We do not anticipate having to do this once again. But we all really need to step up. We need to meet this moment head on and we need to do everything we can to stem the tide, bend the curve and give us the time necessary by bending that curve to get those vaccines in the hands of all Californians all across the state.”
The governor’s announcement was met with derision from some Republican lawmakers
“Governor Newsom clearly doesn’t understand that Californians are tired of being locked in their homes,” Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said. “He has ignored the calls from parents with children falling behind socially and academically while his own children attend in-person private school. He is ignoring the cries from small business owners struggling to keep their dreams alive, desperately trying to avoid the over 19,000 businesses that have permanently closed.”
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