Newsom to Impose Sweeping New Stay-at-Home Order as COVID-19 Rates Soar

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A pop-up COVID-19 testing site near the BART station on 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco on Nov. 30, 2020. The site is part of the Unidos En Salud initiative, a collaboration between UCSF and the city's Latino Task Force, in response to the city's rapidly rising case rates. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Update, 5 p.m. Friday:

Bay Area health officials from five counties announced Friday that they're implementing a new stay-at-home order ahead of the state's timeline announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday.

The restrictions will affect residents and businesses in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. The order will last until Jan. 4, 2021.

Indoor and outdoor playgrounds, personal care services, hair salons, movie theaters, museums and bars must close. Gathering with anyone outside of your household is not allowed, even outside. All non-essential travel is not allowed.

Indoor retail and grocery stores can operate at 20% capacity, and restaurants can stay open for take-out, delivery and pick-up.

The stay-at-home order will go into effect on the following days:

  • Contra Costa County: Sunday, Dec. 6
  • Santa Clara County: Sunday, Dec. 6
  • San Francisco County: Monday, Dec. 7
  • Alameda County: Monday, Dec. 7
  • Marin County: Tuesday, Dec. 8

See more information about what the new stay-at-home order means.

Original post:
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a sweeping new regional stay-at-home order that will force the shutdown of many businesses and activities in vast regions across California where hospital intensive care units are nearing capacity due to soaring COVID-19 rates.

Health officials, Newsom said, will track ICU capacity in five regions, designated as the Bay Area, Northern California, the greater Sacramento region, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The order will go into effect for an entire region — for at least three weeks — when its ICU beds are more than 85% full.

"The bottom line is, if we don't act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed," Newsom said at a press briefing. "If we don't act now, we'll continue to see the death rate climb — more lives lost. And that's why today ... we are pulling that emergency brake."

Residents in regions where the order is imposed will technically be required to stay at home as much as possible in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus. The order also mandates the closure, within 48 hours, of a wide swath of businesses and activities, akin to those forced to close during the first statewide shutdown in March. Businesses that must close when the order is triggered include:

  • Hair salons
  • Indoor recreation centers
  • Movie theaters
  • Bars and wineries
  • Personal care services
  • Museums
  • Indoor and outdoor playgrounds

Restaurants will only be allowed to offer take-out and delivery service – even outdoor dining will be prohibited – and occupancy at grocery stores and other retail outlets will be reduced to 20% capacity. Additionally, the order restricts all nonessential travel, and requires that hotels and other lodging be reserved for essential workers. Houses of worship must also cease all indoor operations.

As the order currently stands, K-12 schools and day care centers that are already offering in-person learning can continue to do so.

None of the five regions currently meet the threshold to trigger the order, Newsom said, but most are projected to reach it within days. In the Bay Area, the order will likely take effect by mid- to late-December.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Newsom implemented a more limited curfew restricting many nonessential activities and business operations across much of the state between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Similar to that action, and the first shutdown order in March, enforcement of this newest mandate will remain largely in the hands of local authorities. Newsom warned, though, as he did repeatedly in the spring, that the state would withhold money from counties that refused to enforce the rules.

Individual counties will be eligible to emerge from their regional order after three weeks if their hospital ICU capacity, projected 4 weeks out — increases to at least 15%, at which point they will go back to the color-coded reopening tier system the state has been using. But the chances of that happening anytime soon is slim, Newsom said, anticipating that the entire state will likely remain under the order into early 2021. "Not just three weeks, but likely next month, month and a half, maybe as much as two months," he said.

Unlike the order in March, this newest directive allows parks and beaches to remain open.

"I'm not naive about the pressure and stress that you’re under," Newsom said, urging people to participate in outside activities to the extent they safely can. "We encourage you to take your dog for a walk. We want you to exercise and go on a run with a partner within your household. ... Take a bike ride. Go fishing."

The announcement comes amid an alarming new surge of COVID-19 cases in California — along with the rest of the country — that threaten to overwhelm the health care system.

Over the last seven days, there has been an average of more than 15,000 new, daily infections reported statewide, far outpacing the rate during previous surges. And those figures, Newsom noted, don't account for the impacts of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. Roughly 12% of new cases will likely require hospitalization over a two-week period, which could cause a spike in new hospital admissions across the state and quickly strain intensive care units, he said.

Deaths from the virus in California have also shot up in recent weeks.

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"A month ago, on Nov. 2, we reported the tragic loss of 14 lives related to this pandemic," Newsom said. "In the last 24 hours, similar to the previous 24 hours, we reported back-to-back days with 113 deaths." The virus, he noted, has already claimed the lives of more than 19,400 Californians since March.

The nation’s leading infectious disease specialist threw his support behind Newsom's order.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told KQED’s Political Breakdown podcast Thursday that he consulted with California health authorities ahead of the announcement. He called it “a prudent and correct decision.”

“The reason is that you are all on a brink, literally on the threshold of the almost unimaginable situation of getting the health care system overrun," Fauci said. "You just can’t let that happen. That is unimaginable and unacceptable.

“I spoke to some of [Newsom's] health people, and I said I would back them in that decision. So I certainly back what the governor is doing.”

Fauci warned that while hospitals across the nation are already filling up, we have not “seen the full brunt of what we expect to be yet again, another surge ... Hopefully a mini-surge, as opposed to a major one.”

Acknowledging the heavy financial and emotional burden the new order places on scores of Californians, Newsom urged small businesses to take advantage of a series of new tax relief measures intended to help soften the blow of the restrictions, including an automatic three-month extension for taxpayers filing less than $1 million in sales tax, and interest-free payment agreements to larger companies that have up to $5 million in taxable sales.

Newsom said the state was also dipping into reserve accounts to make half a billion dollars of additional funds available to small businesses, cultural institutions and nonprofits, offering individual cash grants of up to $25,000. It is also offering a new hiring tax credit — of up to $1,000 per employee and $100,000 per employer, he said.

"Take advantage of the moment," Newsom said. "Utilize those dollars."

Newsom also said the state would continue making hotel rooms available for agriculture and health care workers, as well as the homeless, and provide additional funding to food banks.

Newsom also spelled out the distribution plan for the 327,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine the state expects to receive by mid-December. That vaccine, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been shown to be 95% effective in preventing new infections, but requires two doses, and must be stored at extremely low temperatures — far below the capability of standard freezers.

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Under the prioritization plan, the first batch of that vaccine — enough for less than 1% of California's population — will be distributed to the state's most vulnerable workers in three different groups. Workers in hospitals, assisted living facilities and dialysis centers, as well as paramedics and emergency medical technicians, will be first in line, Newsom said.

Up next will be workers in home health and supportive services, correctional institutions, community health clinics and urgent care facilities.

Workers in other health care settings, including lab, dental and pharmacy employees, will round out the final tier of initial recipients.

"We will be very aggressive in making sure that those with means, those with influence, are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines," Newsom said. “We will prioritize, and we will expect that everyone in the health care delivery system is held to the same ethical standard of prioritizing truly those that are most in need."

Newsom said he expected the state to also soon receive vaccines from some of the other drug producers, and would expand distribution plans based on those supplies.

"This is not a permanent state. This is what many had projected," Newsom said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine, real distribution, real accessibility, real availability. We do not anticipate having to do this once again."

But he underscored the critical urgency of the moment.

"We really all need to step up," he added. "We need to do everything we can to stem the tide, to bend the curve and give us the time necessary to get those vaccines in the hands of all Californians all across the state."

KQED's Marisa Lagos contributed to this report.