By Zach Cavanagh, Collin Breaux and Shawn Raymundo
Orange County and the surrounding Southern California region are now under a three-week stay-at-home order as the area’s available intensive care unit capacity dropped below the state’s 15% threshold this past Friday, Dec. 4.
The new stay-at-home order, triggered by the dip in the region’s ICU-bed availability, decreasing from 20.6% to 13.1% from Thursday to Friday, went into effect on Monday, Dec. 7, prompting a wave of renewed restrictions on multiple economic sectors and businesses.
The order is expected to last through at least Dec. 27, affecting the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays. After those three weeks, the region will be reviewed weekly for its projected four-week ICU capacity, and if that capacity is projected to at least 15%, the order will be lifted.
Under the new stay-at-home restrictions, private gatherings and the mixing of households are prohibited, while mask-wearing is required in all sectors. Also, all in-person dining, bars, breweries, wineries, hair salons and barbershops and personal care services must remain closed.
Restaurants can still offer take-out and delivery, and retail and grocery stores will remain open with 20% capacity.
Schools that are open can remain open, and religious services and protests can still happen outdoors. Critical infrastructure—including health care, emergency services, food and agriculture, energy, water and communications services among others—also remains open.
“While we are all tired from the long fight against this pandemic, it is important that we take steps together to slow down this surge in cases,” San Clemente Mayor Kathy Ward said in a press release from the city last Friday.
“We need to make sure that our hospitals can maintain beds and ICU care for those who need it. Keeping our San Clemente families, friends and neighbors healthy is our first priority,” she continued in the release. “Please also continue to support our local businesses that are being impacted by ordering takeout or safely shopping with our retailers.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced the potential for the regional stay-at-home orders on Thursday, Dec. 3. The orders are targeted at slowing the exploding hospitalization rates in the state that, according to a recent update from the state, could fill ICUs past capacity by Christmas Eve.
California was divided into five regions that correspond to state healthcare systems: Northern California, Greater Sacramento, the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
Over the weekend, the Southern California region’s ICU bed availability continued to fall and currently sits at 10.9%, according to the state health department on Monday.
While the regional drop in available ICU beds prompted the new order, per the state’s requirement, Orange County last Friday actually saw a rise in availability, moving up from 17% the day prior to 20%.
According to the county health office’s latest COVID-19 report on Monday, ICU bed availability in Orange County was at 18% with 218 patients requiring treatment in intensive care. In total, the county has 877 coronavirus patients currently admitted in a hospital.
The numbers from Monday’s report saw the fifth-straight day of record of hospitalizations, which have sharply risen since late October, when there were 150 patients—the lowest since the early days of the pandemic.
The weekend also saw three straight days of double-digit deaths reported in Orange County with 17 on Friday and 15 on both Saturday and Sunday for a total of 1,633 deaths over the course of the pandemic.
Speaking with San Clemente Times on Monday, Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, said she is disappointed with the regional stay-at-home order since certain industries like restaurants have complied with changing guidelines.
“They’ve spent a lot of money safeguarding their premises, staff, and patrons,” said Bartlett, who heard from numerous businesses and restaurateurs about the new order which, in part, only allows takeout and delivery service for restaurants.
“Everyone is uniformly disappointed and I understand their disappointment,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett—whose district includes Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano—has a resolution on the agenda for the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, that would call for more local control with the ongoing pandemic.
Bartlett is also focused on attempting to reduce the size of the Southern California region and increasing ICU bed capacity to no longer be under the stay-at-home order.
Currently there are 11 counties in the designated Southern California region, but instead should be broken up into smaller and more manageable areas, with perhaps four counties or so to a region, Bartlett said.
Southern California was the first of the five regions to trigger the stay-at-home order and covers the counties of Orange, Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
The San Joaquin Valley was next to fall under the stay-at-home orders as it currently has 6.3% available ICU capacity. Up in the Northern California region, it has a capacity of 28.2%, while the Bay Area has 25.7% ICU available capacity. The Greater Sacramento region has 20.3% capacity.
While the restrictions affect many sectors, the state encouraged outdoor and physical activities in the announcement of potential shutdowns on Thursday. Some of the state-recommended activities included going to a park or beach, hiking, meditating, practicing yoga or skiing.
The stay-at-home order encourages mask-wearing and physical distancing, as health officials have maintained throughout the pandemic.
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