State imposes sweeping new lockdown as San Joaquin Valley ICU capacity drops to 8.6%
Faced with a dire shortage of hospital beds, health officials announced Saturday a large swath of the Central Valley and the vast region of Southern California will be placed under a sweeping new lockdown in an urgent attempt to slow the rapid rise of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
The Fresno County Department of Public Health announced that the San Joaquin Valley, which includes San Joaquin County as well as 11 others in the agricultural Central Valley, will face the new restrictions on businesses and activities starting Sunday.
In Southern California, the region that includes the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego and is home to about 24 million people, will be placed under the new measures, which take effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday and remain in place for at least three weeks, meaning the lockdown will cover the Christmas holiday. Together the two regions are home to more than half of California's population.
Officials in the San Joaquin Valley — a region that includes San Joaquin, Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne counties — said that intensive care unit capacity has fallen below the 15% threshold that triggers the new measures. Saturday, the San Joaquin Valley’s was 8.6% and Southern California region’s capacity was 12.5%, according to data released by the state.
The rules bar all on-site restaurant dining and close hair and nail salons, movie theaters and many other businesses, as well as museums and playgrounds. They also say people may not congregate with anyone outside their household and must always wear masks when they go outside. Face masks and social distancing are "100%" required, according to the state.
Essential businesses such as grocery stores must operate at 20% capacity; bars, salons, and indoor and outdoor restaurant dining have to shut down; church services must be held outside; and hotels can only be open for critical infrastructure support.
Restaurants can continue take-out and delivery services. Schools can remain open if they've received a waiver, but local jurisdictions can choose to shut them down.
“We know that people are tired of the stringent measures, but they are the only weapons we have to combat the virus. Now, more than ever, we need San Joaquin Valley residents to step up and take these actions seriously — wash hands, wear a face covering, limit gatherings, get tested and socially distance,” Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County’s public health officer, said in a joint statement with other health officials Saturday.
In San Joaquin County, ICU capacity was at 110% Friday, according to the San Joaquin County Emergency Medical Services Agency, with 177 COVID-positive patients admitted for care, an increase of more than 40 percent in the past week. Most of those cases were at Stockton’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center, which has 71 COVID-positive patients, 16 in the ICU, putting its ICU capacity at 121%. San Joaquin General Hospital’s ICU was operating at 150% Friday. There have been 522 confirmed deaths in the county since the beginning of the pandemic, with 27,469 cases as of Friday, San Joaquin County Public Health Services reported; 2,001 of those cases are active.
How the mandates will be enforced remains in the air.
“We at San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office will continue to encourage our community to call us when they need us, and we will continue to show up and help in whatever way we can,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on Facebook Saturday evening. “We will continue to encourage businesses and citizens to follow public health recommendations. As always, we prefer to educate people and businesses that are out of compliance when possible, and help them achieve compliance.
“The bottom line is our community is struggling at this time and we, as always, will be partners in the solution so we can get through this.”
Much of the state is on the brink of the same restrictions. With a new lockdown looming, many rushed out to supermarkets Saturday and lined up outside salons to squeeze in a haircut before the orders take effect.
San Francisco resident Michael Duranceau rushed to a market to prepare.
“I’m just stocking up before Sunday — the basics, bread, eggs,” he told KGO-TV, clutching a heavy grocery bag and a baguette.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new plan Thursday. It is the most restrictive order since he imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March. The new order divides the state into five regions and uses ICU capacity as the trigger for closures.
Under the new plan, the state is broken down in to five regions that also include the San Joaquin Valley, Northern California, the Bay Area and Greater Sacramento.
What's my region's ICU capacity? Here's where California stands
Here’s each region's current ICU bed capacity, according to data provided by the California Department of Public Health on Saturday:
- Bay Area: 21.7%
- Greater Sacramento: 21.4%
- Northern California: 24.1%
- San Joaquin Valley: 8.6%
- Southern California: 12.5%
Health officers in six Bay Areas counties decided not to wait for the state and issued their own order Friday. The counties had not yet reached Newsom's threshold but said the hospital system will be overwhelmed before the end of December when his order would apply.
“We don't think we can wait for the state’s new restrictions to go into effect later this month. This is an emergency,” said Contra Costa Health Officer Chris Farnitano.
“Our biggest fear all along — that we won’t have a bed for you or your mother or your grandmother or grandfather when they get sick — is the reality we’ll be facing unless we slow the spread,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said.
The Bay Area order will last at least through Jan. 4, a week longer than the state’s timeline, and came as the state recorded another daily record number of new cases with 22,018. Hospitalizations topped 9,000 for first time and ICU patients were at a record 2,152. The state has averaged more than 17,800 new cases per day over the past week, according to data compiled by The Los Angeles Times.
A gut-wrenching move
The new shutdowns were a gut-wrenching move for small businesses that have struggled to survive over nearly a year in which they were repeatedly ordered to close, then allowed to reopen but with complex safety precautions.
Michelle Saunders James was in tears Friday at the thought of closing down her Oakland nail salon just five weeks after reopening it.
“We wear (face) shields. We take temperatures. We do everything we are told to do so everyone feels safe, including our staff and team,” she told KGO-TV. “So I don’t understand why it’s not enough and I’m terribly sad and afraid.”
Critics say the broad statewide order unfairly lumps too many disparate counties together into regions.
The approach “places our ability to reopen with 10 other counties including Los Angeles County which has absolutely failed to control the coronavirus, and Mono County, whose most populous city is 344 miles away,” said Fred M. Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County.
The explosive rise in COVID-19 infections that began in October is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.
Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez said people should not meet in person with anyone they don’t live with, “even in a small group, and even outdoors with precautions.”
“If you have a social bubble, it is now popped,” Hernandez said. “Do not let this be the last holiday with your family.”
Cases could triple by Christmas
The governor's stay-at-home orders come after weeks of a rapid climb of new COVID-19 cases across California. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have increased nearly 90% and could triple by Christmas, officials said earlier this week.
The current uptick in COVID-19 cases is only the start of a much larger surge, which officials expect to hit in the next few weeks due to holiday activities and gatherings.
The levels are far above those recorded during a summer peak or even in March, when a state public health order restricted people from going outside except for the most essential reasons. That order was later eased.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, could reach ICU capacity within days. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that could mean people with other life-threatening illnesses, such as strokes and heart attacks, might be unable to get a bed.
The city alone could see more than 11,000 lives lost to the virus by year’s end, the mayor said.
“That means 3,000 additional deaths in a single month. To put that in perspective, it’s a decade of homicides,” Garcetti said. “This is the greatest threat to life in Los Angeles that we have ever faced.”
While the state is nearing distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, Newsom said Californians must continue to “do everything we can to stem the tide, to bend the curve.”
“This is not a permanent state,” Newsom added. “This is what we predicted. This is the final surge of the pandemic. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Palm Springs Desert Sun, The Associated Press and The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.