OAKLAND, Calif. — California regions will face stay-at-home orders when their hospital capacity shrinks to an alarmingly low level under a new plan Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health chief announced Thursday.
In a region where rising cases threaten to overwhelm limited intensive care units, pushing available units to below 15 percent of capacity, residents will be directed to remain in their homes unless they are conducting essential activities.
While no area of California currently faces a severe enough ICU shortage to meet those requirements, health officials said some regions could hit the threshold and come under stay-at-home requirements as soon as this week.
“If we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said Thursday.
Newsom is dividing the state into five geographic regions and said projections show all of them will face a stay-at-home order at some point this month, with the Bay Area reaching that point later than the rest of the state.
Lockdowns would last for three weeks minimum. Residents would be unable to gather, while playgrounds, salons and restaurant dining would have to close. Food takeout would still be allowed, while hotels could only open for critical infrastructure support. Religious institutions would be limited to outdoor services.
Schools that are already open can remain so even if they are in counties that come under the new orders. Retailers would be able to continue operating indoors but would need to sharply curtail their operations so they only allow 20 percent of their capacity. People could still seek non-urgent medical and dental care.
The governor said the order is “fundamentally predicated on the need to stop gathering with people outside your household.”
The five regions are the Bay Area; Southern California; Greater Sacramento; San Joaquin Valley; and Northern California. Regions would have 48 hours to adopt a stay-home order once the state imposes one.
The governor has escalated California’s restrictions in recent weeks as the state’s test positivity rate and hospitalizations continue mounting at unprecedented rates, thrusting the state into what Newsom has called the pandemic’s most perilous phase. The governor has already clamped down by pulling 52 of 58 counties into the most stringent tier of restrictions, slamming the door on various forms of commerce and gatherings and issuing a nighttime curfew.
The governor spent time Thursday emphasizing low-interest loans and tax relief for businesses that will undoubtedly struggle during the holiday season with closures or heavily reduced foot traffic. He also emphasized workers compensation and sick leave options for employees.
A renewed stay-at-home mandate, which Newsom has telegraphed for days, represents the governor’s most aggressive attempt yet to get ahead of a winter surge. Any regional lockdown would return residents to restrictions they endured in the spring after Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order.
Public health experts credit California’s broad adherence to the March order with protecting the state’s health care system from collapse and averting more deaths.
But the state’s population may be less inclined to obey a second lockdown as pandemic fatigue collides with misbehavior by Newsom and other officials who have admitted to dining at restaurants or in large groups even as they urge Californians to avoid similar gatherings.