Facing down what he called the “final surge” of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday said he expects to shut down many businesses and further restrict residents’ movements in the COVID-weary Bay Area within the next few weeks.
Newsom laid out the strictest widespread shutdown the state has seen since its initial shelter-in-place orders in March, requiring regions to close outdoor restaurant, brewery and winery seating, hair salons and barbershops, playgrounds and other venues if their hospital ICU capacity dips below 15%.
The Bay Area “region”– which includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties — is expected to hit that trigger point by mid-to-late December, Newsom said. For the rest of the state, it likely will be within the next week.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see (our) death rate climb. More lives lost.”
The new order comes as more Californians than ever before were hospitalized with COVID-19 this week, and average daily infections continue to rise — hitting a record of nearly 15,000 on Wednesday. About 23% of the state’s ICU beds remain open, but all could be full by mid-December if no action is taken, according to state projections. In Santa Clara County, nearly nine in 10 hospital beds are full, and no hospital has more than five open ICU beds, officials said Wednesday. If Alameda County hospitals continue to fill up, officials there might enact the new stay-at-home order even before required to.
Thursday’s restrictions differ from California’s earliest shelter-in-place orders. Even when a region hits the 15% ICU capacity threshold, retail stores — including shopping centers — can continue conducting business indoors at 20% capacity. Schools that have begun in-person classes will not be forced to stop and go back to distance learning only.
But the order bans all non-essential travel.
Newsom is taking the right steps to avoid the catastrophe that would ensue if California’s hospitals run out of room, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF.
“I think this has the potential to really turn the corner,” she said.
But the new order is likely to hit many Bay Area businesses hard again — including restaurants, which have been forced to bounce back and forth between outdoor-only dining and indoor dining with restrictions. Now, if the Bay Area’s hospital capacity continues to drop, they’ll be forced to offer takeout and delivery only.
The constantly changing health rules have left Oyo restaurant in downtown Pleasanton in limbo. The owner, 60-year-old Maurice Dissels, had to lay off workers earlier this year, and might again if the Bay Area is hit with another shutdown order.
“We have a mixed mindset,” he said Thursday, while standing outside his Guyanese and South American-style restaurant with his partner and son, Samuel. “On one hand, this is a family-owned business. I’d like to keep my family and my employees safe. But at the same time, we’re trying to make a living here. So I’m struggling.”
The restaurant is still putting the finishing touches on its new wooden parklet — built to accommodate the prior mandate that allowed just outdoor seating.
In addition to the financial strain on businesses, many in the Bay Area are feeling pandemic fatigue. After more than eight months of COVID-related restrictions, and with the temptation of social gatherings particularly strong during the holiday season, it’s unclear how willing people will be to follow Newsom’s new mandates. To further complicate matters, several politicians — including Newsom, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and San Francisco Mayor London Breed — have faced criticism for attending gatherings despite urging their constituents to stay home.
As a result, Newsom got some immediate pushback after announcing the new order.
“The insanity of another lockdown and expecting a different result is madness,” California State Senator Melissa Melendez, R – Lake Elsinore, said in a statement. “To add insult to tremendous injury, the Governor and too many Democrat-elected officials don’t even follow their own mandates. Californians damn well deserve better.”
For counties that don’t enforce the new rules, Newsom threatened to withhold federal CARES Act dollars and other pandemic relief funding.
Carol Goedde, 78, was enjoying lunch at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in San Jose’s Santana Row on Thursday afternoon when she heard about the governor’s new order. The San Jose resident said she has signed multiple “Recall Gavin Newsom” petitions since the beginning of the pandemic.
“He’s closing down California and making more people depressed,” Goedde said. “I just think that people should be making their own decisions and it shouldn’t be the governor telling us how to live our lives.”
Pointing to the spaced-out tables and servers wearing masks, Goedde said she felt safe eating outdoors.
But Bibbins-Domingo said that with COVID cases up, she agrees with Newsom that outdoor dining is too risky. Many outdoor dining areas have become crowded, and others, as the weather gets colder, are putting up make-shift shelters that limit airflow and could increase virus spread, she said. And on top of that, diners take their masks off when eating — compounding the risk.
The new order comes two weeks after Newsom announced a limited, nearly statewide curfew designed to curtail the nighttime movements of Californians and slow the virus’ spread. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary, on Thursday admitted the curfew hadn’t been as effective as desired — which was part of the reason state officials progressed to a move restrictive order. The curfew led to “slight reductions” in nighttime movement, but “nothing too significant,” he said.
“We, of course, had hoped and wanted to see more from that already, but we haven’t,” Ghaly said.
More help is on the way, however. Newsom expects the state will receive 327,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines between Dec. 12 and 15.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We do not anticipate having to do this once again. But we really all need to step up.”
Staff writer John Woolfolk contributed.