Gov. Newsom announces regional stay-at-home order based on hospital capacity, ICU bed levels

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a new limited stay-at-home order impacting areas with hospital capacities below certain thresholds, with emphasis on critical factors like beds and ICU space.

To implement such an order, the governor and the state’s Department of Health have divided California into five separate geographic regions. Lockdowns will last a minimum of three weeks for areas meeting those grim COVID-19 statistics, the governor said in a media briefing Thursday.

For regions that have ICU capacity lower than 15%, residents will be asked to stay in their homes unless conducting an essential function. Gov. Newsom did emphasize, however, that Californians can still leave their homes, exercise and run errands. In fact, he encouraged that kind of activity Thursday.

For now, the Bay Area, as defined by the state’s regional map to include counties like Monterey and Santa Cruz, won’t be under those strict guidelines.

"If we don't act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed," Gov. Newsom said.

At this time, none of the regions meet the guidelines.

Other regions announced Thursday - Northern California, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California - are expected to reach the 15% ICU marker in the next few days, possibly as soon as 48 hours. The Bay Area is projected to meet the unfortunate criteria sometime in mid-to-late December.

Statewide, ICU admissions have increased 67% over the last two weeks.

Under the guidelines, essential businesses remain open.

Restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery. Bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops will close. While retail is allowed to remain open at 20% capacity, schools and critical infrastructure are allowed to stay open without capacity restrictions.

The new order comes as projections show dire consequences without action, including a total shortage ICU bed capacity by Christmas Eve. The California Department of Public Health reported a single-day record 20,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday.

On Monday, Gov. Newsom teased ahead to Thursday’s announcement: "This is an incredibly important week in the history of this pandemic for this nation, not just this state, and I can assure you that we will be coming out with some additional information, some additional recommendations in the very, very near future."

Fifty-two of California’s 58 counties are listed in the state’s purple reopening tier, meaning those residents are also under a limited overnight curfew order.

Some areas, like Los Angeles County, have already moved forward with stricter guidelines. Other county health departments have reportedly held off knowing Thursday’s announcement was coming.

As with other statewide orders, local sheriffs can decide to enforce the rules. Many law enforcement officials, like Sacramento County's sheriff who later tested positive for COVID-19, announced they would not be enforcing the governor’s latest limited curfew order when it was revealed last month.

"Help is on the way," the governor said of promising vaccine trials. "There is light at the end of this tunnel. We are not in a permanent state." He added that "vaccines are about to arrive in the state of California in the next few weeks." Over 320,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine are expected to arrive some time next week.