What are travel rules in Southern California for the December shutdown?
Southern California hotels are closed to out-of-state guests for leisure travel for at least three weeks under a new stay-at-home order, while in-state residents are being urged to stay home.
New state guidelines released on Dec. 3 say hotels can't accept reservations from guests outside California, unless they're staying long enough to quarantine.
Southern California, as well as a region consisting of a large part of the San Joaquin Valley, saw their available intensive care unit capacities each shrink to well below 15% over the weekend, prompting the onset of the state's new shutdown protocol to combat the near-overwhelming increase in COVID-19 cases in these areas.
Those rules have to remain in place for three weeks.
"Californians are being urged to avoid non-essential travel statewide," a California Department of Public Health spokesperson said in an email to The Desert Sun on Dec. 5. "When a region triggers a stay-at-home order, Californians are being asked to do just that: Stay at home unless they must leave their home for an essential or critical need."
On Dec. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference that hotels cannot be open for tourists and leisure in the regions that are affected by the shutdowns.
"Lodging can be used only for essential workers only," he said.
But hotels don't have to close altogether, because people who are traveling for essential work-related purposes can make reservations. Quarantining and isolating are also allowed at hotels, as of guidance on the state's COVID-19 website as of Monday night.
The state's guidance for hotels on its COVID-19 protocols website doesn't say what minimum time is required for quarantining guests. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Dec 8, "continues to endorse quarantine for 14 days and recognizes that any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus."
But the text of the shutdown order says while hotels may only host critical infrastructure support, they can't host out-of-state guests "unless the reservation is for at least the minimum time period required for quarantine and the persons identified in the reservation will quarantine in the hotel or lodging entity until after that time period has expired."
Newsom's comments were meant to clear up days of confusion in the hospitality industry. On Dec. 4, the state's hotel lobby, the California Hotel and Lodging Association, said in a message to its members that hotels should tell out-of-state guests who call that they can't make a reservation and that lodging is limited for essential travel only. The non-legal guidance said "leisure or individual travelers from within California are allowed."
Mark Ghaly, the state's secretary of health and human services, also put an end to that confusion and said Californians in the affected areas are urged to stay at home because of the diminished ICU capacity.
"The point is to stay at home during this time, to bring transmission rates down," he said. "If you're in one of the two regions (currently under shutdown protocols) we ask you not to travel for leisure."
The latest shutdown is an especially hard blow for small business owners in the hospitality world, who are now back to the rules that they operated under in the spring.
Hotels, already far under their typical guest count for December in the desert with the lack of group travel, have been receiving cancellation calls in the run-up to the shutdown order.
And, restaurants that had invested tens of thousands of dollars in outdoor dining infrastructure such as tables, umbrellas, and heat lamps because they're barred from using their indoor dining rooms, are losing even more money now that outdoor dining are being forced to shut down under the new protocols.
In both cases, fewer guests translate into more worker furloughs and layoffs without any additional financial support for laid-off workers beyond unemployment insurance. In California, weekly benefits are capped at $450, with the average recipient qualifying for $294 a week as of October.
While the state has various programs available to small business owners, including a tax payment deferment, neither the state nor the federal government has implemented any additional unemployment funds for laid-off workers after two earlier programs expired.
Chad Gardner, a Palm Springs restauranteur who runs Roly China Fusion and 533 Viet Fusion, said he estimates he’ll need just about 20% of the workers he usually has to continue operating as a five-day-a-week takeout order eatery.
The timing, he said, is particularly difficult – and not just because the holidays are usually a booming time for restaurants.
“The most difficult part about this is having to lay off all the staff right before Christmas. That's the hard part,” he said. “We just don’t need a full staff anymore.”
Scott White, head of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said on Friday that the hospitality industry has already been devastated and will have a long road to recovery.
“It is imperative that Congress pass an economic stimulus bill as soon as possible, or many businesses will not survive,” he said.
Outgoing Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors said Saturday while he is concerned about the effect the shutdown will have on the Coachella Valley's economy, the health of valley residents is more important.
"It's gonna be a hardship for our businesses and workers to have to shut down, and the impacts economically. That said, we saw a drop from over 20% ICU beds in the region to just 13% in 24 hours, and the projections are that the region will be out of ICU beds in a matter of a week," he said. "COVID-19 rates are higher than they've been at any time during the pandemic and the top priority is to make sure that we protect the health and wellbeing of our residents."
Melissa Daniels covers economic development, hospitality and local business in the Coachella Valley. She can be reached at (760)-567-8458, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @melissamdaniels.