Millions of people in the San Francisco Bay Area will go under a new stay-at-home order beginning this weekend as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals fill up, health officials announced on Friday.
On Thursday California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, launched a regional stay-at-home order pegged to intensive-care unit capacity at hospitals. Once the ICU capacity of a region falls below 15%, a stay-at-home order will be triggered, with the vast majority of California expected to meet that criteria within the next few days.
The Bay Area was not expected to hit that threshold until mid-December, but San Francisco and four other Bay Area counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Clara – as well as the city of Berkeley have decided to pre-emptively adopt the order in an effort to curb the surge.
The pre-emptive order comes as San Francisco averages 142 new Covid-19 cases a day and 900 new cases a week. Hospitalizations have tripled over the last month.
“It takes several weeks for new restrictions to slow-rising hospitalizations, and waiting until only 15% of a region’s ICU beds are available is just too late,” said the San Francisco health officer, Dr Tomás Aragón. “Many heavily impacted parts of our region already have less than 15% of ICU beds available, and the time to act is now.”
San Francisco, along with other Bay Area counties, is opting in to the Governor's regional Stay at Home Order effective Sunday at 10pm.
We're on pace to run out of hospital beds to care for patients the day after Christmas. We must turn this around now. https://t.co/F0qwFnCb9e
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) December 4, 2020
The order, which will affect about 6 million people in the Bay Area, represents the most serious restrictions the state has put in place since the spring. They require restaurants to close to indoor and outdoor dining. Bars and wineries must also close, along with hair and nail salons and playgrounds. Retail stores and shopping centers can operate with just 20% customer capacity. Gatherings of any size with people outside of one’s household are banned.
The changes will take effect on Sunday and last through 4 January. Officials said the region’s hospital system would have been overwhelmed before the end of December, when Newsom’s 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 Chris Farnitano, the Contra Costa county health officer.
“Given the steep increase in Covid-19 cases in San Francisco, we must do whatever is necessary in order to get the virus under control,” said London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor. “This is about protecting people’s lives. We see how quickly it moves and how devastating the effects. We need to do everything we can to prevent our hospital system from becoming overwhelmed and to save lives.”
The other four regions of the state – northern California, the greater Sacramento area, southern California and the San Joaquin valley – are expected to reach the below-15% threshold within the next few days.
The new stay-at-home order will cut sharply into the most profitable shopping season and threaten financial ruin for businesses already struggling after 10 months of on-again, off-again restrictions and slow sales because of the pandemic.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in San Francisco said most restaurants “cannot make it financially on takeout alone”. The closure comes after many area restaurants have built new outdoor spaces, some at great expense.
All of the Bay Area’s counties except Marin are in the most restrictive purple tier in the state’s pandemic blueprint for the economy, which has already forced 52 of California’s 58 counties to halt most non-essential indoor activities and imposed a daily curfew from 10pm to 5am.
But it hasn’t worked because, data shows, people are ignoring the rules, Dr Mark Ghaly, the state’s top public health officer, acknowledged Thursday.
In the inland Central Valley, Fresno County had just 10 of its 150 ICU beds available. Health officials described a grim picture with hospitals struggling to stay staffed because of coronavirus infections and exposures. One hospital is holding ICU patients in the emergency department until beds open up, Daniel Lynch, the emergency medical services director, said on Friday.
“The hospitals are full,” Lynch said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting