By Ann Peterson and Craig Lazzeretti
Managing and assistant managing editors
(Friday, Dec. 4) Contra Costa and other Bay Area counties will impose a new regional stay-at-home order starting Sunday, Dec. 6, to try to curb the surge in COVID-D19 cases and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
The new order, which is scheduled to last until Jan. 4, means restaurants will be restricted to only takeout and delivery services, meaning outdoor dining at Creekside Grill will be suspended after Sunday. It also mandates the closure of hair and nail care salons and barbershops and other personal service businesses, as well as outdoor wineries and card rooms. Many indoor businesses, including retail stores, that are allowed to continue operating must further reduce occupancy to 20% and develop plans for enforcing facing coverings and social distancing rules.
Friday’s announcement by Bay Area health officers came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new state stay-at-home order that would be triggered when available beds at hospital intensive care units (ICUs) in a particular region fell below 15% of capacity. But because of the quickly deteriorating situation, health officers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, and the city of Berkeley, to implement the new restrictions immediately.
During a Friday news conference, the Bay Area health officers described a dire situation in the region with cases and hospitalizations spiking and the health care system at risk of being overwhelmed. They also pleaded with Bay Area residents not to gather with anyone outside their own household during the current surge.
“The dark COVID winter we feared would come has arrived in the Bay Area,” Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Christopher Farnitano said. “I and other county health officers in the Bay Area don’t believe we can wait for the state’s new restrictions to go into effect later in the month. We must act swiftly to save as many lives as we can. This is an emergency.”
Farnitano said that over the past month, the number of new COVID-19 cases identified daily in the county has more than doubled, exceeding the peak from the summer wave, and the number of patients requiring hospitalization has tripled, also exceeding the summer peak.
The Bay Area health orders announced Friday largely align with Newsom’s state directive that divides California into five regions, one of which encompasses the Bay Area. When a particular region falls below 15% ICU availability, the new restrictions go into effect. As of Thursday, the Bay Area was on track to hit that mark in mid- to late-December, according to Newsom.
“Many heavily impacted parts of our region already have less than 15% of ICU beds available, and the time to act is now,” San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragon said.
Santa Clara County Dr. Sarah Cody said during Friday’s conference call that ICU availability in her county had already dipped below the 15% threshold.
Critical infrastructure can continue to operate under the new stay-at-home order, as well as schools that have already reopened
In announcing the new order, Newsom highlighted an alarming jump in deaths from COVID-19 in recent weeks. On Dec. 2, 113 Californians died from the virus, compared with 14 on Nov. 2. Over the previous 14 days, 971 residents of the state succumbed to the virus and the situation was expected to grow more dire in the weeks following Thanksgiving-related gatherings.
Newsom emphasized that Californians need to stop gathering with people outside their own household, avoid as much as possible indoor activities outside their own home, and be vigilant about wearing a mask.
“Dr. (Anthony) Fauci said it best, we should anticipate a surge on top of a surge,” Newsom said, referring to the nation’s top infectious disease official. “The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed. This is the most challenging movement since the beginning of the pandemic.”
At the same time, Newsom sounded a note of optimism, emphasizing that the distribution of new vaccines was imminent and saying more than once that “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
“We have to meet this moment head on,” he said, referring to the current surge as the “third and final wave.”
Even before Thursday’s announcement, regions of the state were moving aggressively to shut down activities and limit the movement of residents.
Los Angeles enacted a three-week shutdown that included banning gatherings of people from different households. Santa Clara announced travel restrictions and a ban on contact sports until Dec. 21.
In addition to the ban on gatherings, Los Angeles had set new occupancy limits in many businesses, reverted back to takeout and delivery only at restaurants and closed playgrounds through at least Dec. 21. Even outdoor activities, such as golf and tennis, were restricted to members of the same household.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara had ordered a 14-day quarantine for any resident or visitor who arrives after an overnight stay more than 150 miles away. Pro, college and high school contact sports also were not permitted to practice or play in the county. Store capacity limits are back, as is limiting hotels to essential travelers only.
Health officials continue to preach vigilance in helping to stop the spread of the virus. This includes:
- Wearing face coverings, even outside, any time a person comes within 6 feet of someone with whom they don’t live;
- Limit going outside of the home to essential activities such as work, grocery shopping, getting health care and exercise;
- Maintain 6 feet of physical distance from those outside one’s household;
- Do not leave home if experiencing a fever, coughing or shortness of breath;
- Wash one’s hands regularly or use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible.
While preaching the importance of staying home and abiding by the new restrictions, Newsom and state Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also encouraged residents to continue to engage in outdoor activities for their own physical and mental health.
“We think that’s a great way to stay healthy and have an emotional release valve,” Ghaly said.