California has announced sweeping plans for a new, regional stay-at-home order that is likely to affect nearly all of the state within days.
The order is pegged to hospital capacity – regions where where ICU capacity falls below 15% will come under the new restrictions.
The orders are the strictest to be imposed since the statewide stay-at-home order in March. “This is the most challenging moment since the start of the pandemic,” said the governor, Gavin Newsom, announcing the order on Thursday.
So what does it mean, and will it work?
What are the rules?
The new stay-at-home order will impose new restrictions on business and gathering spaces. Residents have been directed to remain at home and avoid all non-essential travel. Activities such as grocery shopping, medical appointments, dog walks and individual outdoor exercise are permitted.
Restaurants will be limited to takeout and pickup service, while bars, breweries and distilleries will be closed, along with fitness centers, hair salons, barber shops, casinos and nail salons.
Retail establishments may remain in business while limited to 20% of capacity, with hotels permitted to stay open to support “critical infrastructure” only.
Office workplaces will be closed except for essential sectors where remote working is impossible. Public schools with in-classroom instruction already in place may remain open.
Under the plan, indoor religious services will remain prohibited, despite recent US supreme court decisions siding with churches and synagogues that challenged state social distancing rules on worship.
How will the order be applied?
The order will take effect after 48 hours in any of five designated geographic regions where available ICU space falls to 15% of capacity or less, Newsom said. Each region is to remain under its stay-at-home order for at least three weeks once it is imposed.
So far, none of these regions have hit the ICU capacity triggering the order. But every region, aside from the Bay Area, is expected to reach that limit within a few days, Newsom said on Thursday. The Bay Area is likely to reach that point by mid-December.
Los Angeles had already imposed its own stay-at-home directive earlier this week, with the mayor ordering residents to stay in their homes and avoid social gatherings. Eric Garcetti has warned the city is nearing “a devastating tipping point”.
The nation’s most populous state has been battling to bring a deadly surge in new Covid cases under control. The state reported 18,591 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the daily average to 15,121. On 2 November, the state reported just 14 Covid-related deaths. One month later, it saw 113 deaths.
Meanwhile hospitals are under increasing pressure, as virus hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled since mid-October. Admissions have climbed by 86% in the past 14 days.
“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “If we don’t act now, our death rate will continue to climb.”
Overall, California has reported more than 1.2m cases and more than 19,400 deaths.
Will it work?
California was the first state to order residents to shelter in place, and in doing so, it avoided an initial surge like the one New York experienced. Its government – despite missteps in judgment by several politicians that on two separate occasions involved the same high-end restaurant in Napa county – was touted across the country for its forceful leadership.
But when restrictions started easing in May, and as the weather warmed, California began experiencing its first surge in cases. By 4 July, the state registered an average of about 6,000 to 7,000 new cases each day. The state then pivoted away from its original “watch list” system and adopted a tiered system for reopening each of its 58 counties, basing the decision to lessen restrictions on case rate per population and positivity rates. By October, California was reporting daily numbers below 3,000 and a positivity rate of 2.5%.
It could be argued that taking similar drastic measures once again could have similar results. But contact tracers identified private household gatherings as one of the major sources of spread in California’s most recent surge. Public health officials have been open about the surge in cases stemming from people growing fatigued with virus precautions and ignoring public health warnings not to socialize with friends and family members. California implemented a 10pm curfew for its most-affected counties in an effort to curb these private gatherings.
The purpose of the new stay-at-home order is to limit the mixing of other households. Only time will tell if it’s possible to put that genie back in the bottle.