Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks on a livestream
Gov. Gavin Newsom explains the regional stay-at-home plan. Image from video

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that new regional stay-at-home orders would be enacted if ICU bed capacity falls below 15% in a region of the state.

Newsom said the order could come for Southern California in the next day or two. Other regions of the state — there are a total of five — may not be affected until next week.

He said the stay-at-home orders are necessary because of “the final surge in this pandemic” before the new vaccines are widely available in the next several months. “If we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” he said.

But he offered hope, saying, “We do not anticipate having to do this once again…. We have light at the end of the tunnel. This is not a marathon any longer; it is a sprint.”

If and when enacted, the orders would begin 48 hours after being announced, last for three weeks and require the following:

  • Stay at home, without making non-essential trips
  • No gatherings involving people from different households
  • Bars, wineries, personal services, indoor recreation, hair salons, barbershops, museums, and movie theaters will close
  • Restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery
  • Hotels will only be open to support critical services
  • Worship and political protests only permitted outdoors
  • Schools that are already open and other critical services can remain open
  • Retail establishments will be limited to 20% capacity

Outdoor activities such as going to a park, walking a dog, and visiting the beach will continue to be permitted.

“None of us are naïve about the mental stresses that many of us are under. But we want to focus on activity that is not indoors,” Newsom said in a livestreamed press conference from his home in Sacramento, where he is under quarantine for exposure to COVID-19.

He said California is ready for the surge with 11 hospital facilities prepared to receive overflow patients, including a currently unused floor of Palomar Medical Center with 200 beds.

The governor said the state has over 21,000 ventilators available to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients.

“We have been doing a lot to prepare for this moment,” he said.

The five regions of the state for purposes of the new stay-at-home orders are Southern California, the Bay Area, the greater Sacramento area, Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

San Diego County currently has 23% of ICU beds available, but is included with Los Angeles and other Southern California counties, where ICU capacity is more limited.

The Southern California region includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The regional groups reflect the areas across which hospitals frequently transfer patients.

Newsom stressed that ICU admissions due to COVID-19 have spiked by 67% statewide in recent weeks, in conjunction with a surge in cases that has also seen a disturbing rise in fatalities. He said the state reported just 14 deaths on Nov. 2, but now has had back-to-back days of 113 deaths, with nearly 1,000 fatalities in last four days.

“If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see the death rate climb, more lives lost,” he said.

The governor’s announcement was met with derision from some Republican lawmakers

“Governor Newsom clearly doesn’t understand that Californians are tired of being locked in their homes,” said Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore. “He has ignored the calls from parents with children falling behind socially and academically while his own children attend in-person private school. He is ignoring the cries from small business owners struggling to keep their dreams alive, desperately trying to avoid the over 19,000 businesses that have permanently closed.”

Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, demanded that the governor provide scientific evidence supporting the stay-at-home order.

“Governor Newsom continues to disrupt life as we know it without releasing the full data behind his decisions or showing the impact his actions are having on our lives,” Grove said. “With all the changing guidelines over the last nine months, evidence-based decision-making has to become the standard and not this hodgepodge approach advanced by the governor.”

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, threw her support behind Newsom, saying skyrocketing case numbers make the action necessary.

“The last eight months have been difficult for everyone,” she said. “The toll of this pandemic on families across the country has been devastating, and the mental, economic and social wellbeing of many Americans is suffering. But we must stay strong and do all we can to save lives. Together we will see it through.”

Updated at 3:33 p.m., Dec. 3, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.