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By Collin Breaux

Underscoring growing calls for people to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, Dec. 3, announced expected regional stay-at-home orders tied to available capacities in the state’s intensive care units as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and hospitalization rates rise.

A stay-at-home order will go into effect when a region’s available ICU capacity falls below 15%, and be in place for three weeks when issued. The five defined regions are Northern California, Greater Sacramento, the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.

No regions are under a stay-at-home order as of this post, but the majority—including Southern California—are expected to fall within the order’s threshold as early as the next day or two.

As of Thursday, Dec. 3, Orange County’s ICU capacity available neared the threshold at 17% as the county set a new high for total COVID-19 hospitalizations at 735. The Southern California region includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura Counties.

Sectors that will have to temporarily close when the order goes into effect include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons, and barbershops. Sectors that can remain open include schools that have received a waiver, critical infrastructure, retail at 20% capacity, and takeout and delivery services for restaurants.

People planning to travel out of state for Christmas and the holidays are urged to reconsider those plans.

Newsom began the virtual press conference mentioning current pandemic statistics and expected upcoming effects. The state reported 18,591 new cases on Dec. 2. Orange County reported 1,102 new cases on Thursday.

“The effects of Thanksgiving, they have not yet been felt,” Newsom said. “They will be felt in a number of weeks. Dr. Fauci said it best: he says we should anticipate a surge on top of a surge.”

The state’s pre-Thanksgiving 14-day positivity rate has grown from 5.2% to 7%, and in the latest tier updated on Tuesday, Orange County’s positivity rate was 8.8%. Hospitalizations in the state have increased 86% in the last 14 days and ICU admissions by 67% “over a similar period of time,” Newsom said.

“We’ve seen death rate increase significantly over the last number of weeks,” Newsom said. “A month ago, on Nov. 2, we reported a tragic loss of 14 lives related to this pandemic. In the last 24 hours, similar to the previous 24 hours, we’ve reported back-to-back days with 113 deaths. Just in the last 14 days, close to 1,000 Californians have lost their lives due to COVID-19.”

Following 18 new deaths on Nov. 27, Orange County saw four straight days without a reported death before one death on Wednesday and eight reported on Thursday.

The hospital system will be overwhelmed and the death rate will climb if people don’t act now, Newsom said. In an update on Monday, Newsom warned that many of the state’s hospital systems would reach capacity or higher in their ICU beds by Christmas Eve.

People are encouraged to continue wearing masks if around others and not gathering outside their homes. Recommended activities during the shutdown include going to a park or beach, hiking, meditating, practicing yoga, or skiing.

“Take a bike ride,” Newsom said. “Go fishing. … This is really important to take care of your physical health, to take care of your mental health.”

Current dire circumstances—though anticipated—are not permanent and there is “light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said.

“We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine, real distribution, real accessibility, real availability,” Newsom said. “We do not anticipate having to do this once again but we really all need to step up. We need to meet this moment head on, and we need to do everything we can to stem the tide, to bend the curve, and to give us the time necessary by bending that curve to get that vaccine in the hands of all Californians.”

Zach Cavanagh contributed to this story.

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