There may be light at the end of the tunnel, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged Tuesday, but it’s a very, very dark tunnel.
California has placed an order for 5,000 additional body bags and has 60 53-foot refrigerators on standby at hospitals around the state. This comes as daily coronavirus deaths are four times higher than they were one month ago.
To combat this third and biggest surge of COVID-19, California is establishing medical overflow facilities and upping intensive care staffing.
The first 33,150 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have arrived in California and more are on the way this week, Newsom said. If the Moderna vaccine is authorized, Newsom anticipates the state will receive 2.1 million doses of both vaccines by the end of the month.
The first phase of vaccinations (called Phase 1A) includes health care workers and residents at long-term care settings, which is a population of about 3 million people. Phase 1B is a larger group of people, about 8 million Californians, and includes farm workers, grocery workers and teachers. Who among those 8 million is next in line is actively being discussed by the state, Newsom said.
It’s been “a very optimistic 48 hours,” the governor said, however the arrival of the vaccine is too little too late to help combat this winter surge of cases and hospitalizations.
The state saw 32,326 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours and intensive care units are starting to become overloaded.
As a region’s ICU capacity drops below 15%, it is required to implement a stay-at-home order.
The latest ICU capacity by region is:
Bay Area: 15.8%
Greater Sacramento: 14.9%
Northern California: 29.8%
San Joaquin Valley: 1.6%
Southern California: 1.7%
Here is Governor Newsom’s 1-hour 20-minute news conference on 12/15/20:
SACRAMENTO — Vast swaths of California will fall under new shutdown orders in the coming weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced additional restrictions Thursday to try to slow the coronavirus surge in areas where intensive care unit capacity is dwindling.
Newsom said he was “pulling the emergency brake” to help California through a third surge of the pandemic, one he hoped would be a final ordeal before a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available after the winter months.
“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed. If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see a death rate climb, more lives lost,” Newsom said during a news briefing. But, he added, “There is light at the end of this tunnel. We are not in a permanent state.”
The orders, which do not immediately impact the Bay Area, will close personal care services such as hair and nail salons, playgrounds, bars and wineries, movie theaters, museums and zoos in places where fewer than 15% of intensive care unit beds are available across an entire region. ICU capacity will be tracked in five regions: Bay Area, rural Northern California, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, stretching from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border.
Retailers, grocery stores and other businesses in those regions that are allowed to remain open will have to operate at 20% capacity, and restaurants will be able to offer only takeout or delivery. No outdoor or indoor dining will be allowed. Schools that have received a waiver to reopen can continue to offer in-person classes.
The orders will remain in effect for at least three weeks after the state imposes them and can be lifted only if the available ICU capacity in the region is projected to rise above 15% again within four weeks after that. At that point, counties in the region will return to one of the state’s current color tiers, with associated restrictions, based on their individual case rates.
Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said Thursday that the city is considering issuing orders similar to the new state edict even before the city hits the 15% ICU mark. Alameda County public health officials Thursday indicated they may follow that same path, issuing stronger restrictions before the state takes action.
“Everything is on the table at this point,” Colfax said. “It is likely that we will take additional steps consistent with the governor’s orders soon.”
As of Thursday, the Bay Area region had 25.3% of its ICU beds available, the state said.
Whether San Francisco or other Bay Area counties move faster than the state prescribes depends on the trajectory of hospitalizations and case rates across the region, Colfax said. At the current rate, the city will run out of ICU beds on Dec. 26, Colfax said.
“And that’s without accounting for what we expect from Thanksgiving,” he said. “We are doing relatively well compared to the rest of the state, but the virus is spreading like wildfire across the state, and if we run out of beds, whether it’s San Francisco or Santa Clara (County), there is not going to be capacity to put people in beds outside the region.”
The state is also reinstating a ban on all nonessential travel statewide, a move intended to reduce mixing between households and discourage family gatherings ahead of the holidays. It includes an exemption for outdoor exercise.
“Today’s message is not about how do we mix safely,” said Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency. “It’s about how we reduce our mixing altogether — staying at home unless it is absolutely essential.”
Newsom said the Bay Area will probably fall below the ICU threshold for new shutdowns by mid-December. The state defined Bay Area in this matter as San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Other parts of the state are expected to come under the stay-at-home order even sooner.
The moves come as California struggles with a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which has already forced Bay Area counties to crack down on community activities. Much of the state and every Bay Area county except Marin have instituted curfews prohibiting nonessential activity between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
As of Thursday afternoon, the nine-county Bay Area had recorded 158,554 cases and 1,996 deaths since the pandemic began. The numbers have exploded over the past month.
The region averaged nearly 1,600 new cases per day for the week that ended Nov. 29, an increase of more than 33% over the previous week, according to a Chronicle data analysis. The Bay Area set an ignominious record in November, averaging 1,158 new cases a day, an average that increased to 1,500 a day over the last two weeks of the month. That’s compared to 480 new cases a day in October. The previous high for a month was 1,061 per day in August.
On Monday, following the Thanksgiving holiday, the Bay Area reported 2,500 cases, by far the most in a single day since the start of the health crisis.
Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at UCSF, said Newsom’s order was not as drastic as it could have been. He said the governor could issue blanket restrictions but suspects he limited the order to preserve the economy.
Still, he said, the fact that there are hospitals in California with less than 15% capacity in their intensive care units is disturbing.
“For me it illustrates very loudly that this third surge in California is very different than the other two,” Chin-Hong said. “There is no room for complacency. I’m scared. Now everybody is hurting, so there is no give in the system.”
The surge is happening in every Bay Area county, but Chin-Hong said Santa Clara County is likely to be the hardest hit by the regulations, at least right away.
With nearly 2,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, only 44 ICU beds are available countywide, officials said. Dr. Sara Cody, the county health officer, said the county is in danger of running out of beds if the current trend continues.
One indication of Santa Clara County’s trouble is the fast-spreading outbreaks at long-term care facilities.
Dr. George Han, the county’s deputy public health officer, said Thursday that 151 people recently tested positive at the Amberwood Gardens skilled nursing center. Sixty have tested positive since Nov. 23, including four staffers, at San Jose’s Boccardo Reception Center. Fourteen tested positive there Wednesday.
Han said the infected residents and those with exposure were put up in hotels. It was the county’s first large-scale outbreak at a homeless shelter, but it wasn’t the only one. Seven people have tested positive since Nov. 18 at South Hall, a shelter in San Jose.
“We have seen an increase recently in all these settings,” said Han, who attributed the increase to a rise in cases throughout the community. “It is more dangerous right now in our community than at any other point in the pandemic.”
In an attempt to quell the spread, Santa Clara County issued a travel directive Monday requiring a 14-day quarantine for people who travel into the county from a distance greater than 150 miles.
The disease is rampant in San Francisco, which reported 209 new infections on Thursday, a count not seen since the summer surge in July. It brought the total cases in the city to 16,001 since the start of the pandemic. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in San Francisco has increased 45% in the past week, and cases have more than quadrupled over a month.
The daily average of new cases in California climbed above 15,000 in the past week, Newsom said, and the number of deaths is rising again, as well. The state saw back-to-back days of more than 100 deaths this week, including 113 on Wednesday, the governor said. A month ago, the daily total was 14 deaths.
Newsom said that without further public health interventions, the state could run out of capacity in intensive care units by Christmas Eve if the surge continues at its current rate. About three-quarters of ICU beds are full, nearly 25% with COVID-19 patients.
Restaurant owners were relieved that Newsom did not shut down outdoor dining statewide at once, an option the governor could have considered.
“I was prepared for the worst, but I’m relieved that the governor made some concessions for restaurants to allow us to try to stay afloat,” said Rocco Biale, the owner of Rocco’s Ristorante Pizzeria in Walnut Creek. “It’s a break for the restaurant industry. Let’s see how long it can last.”
Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles adopted their own modified stay-at-home orders this week, largely prohibiting people from gathering outside their immediate households but allowing retail businesses, parks, beaches, golf courses and tennis courts to remain open.
Republican leaders immediately slammed the new order as excessively harsh and questioned the scientific rationale behind the move.
“Gov. 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,” state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield said in a statement. “The governor owes the state leadership that is committed to transparency and accountability.”
Recognizing that frustration has mounted across the state with his quickly changing restrictions, Newsom practically begged Californians to take the latest order seriously.
“This is the time, if there was any doubt, to put aside your doubt,” he said, “to put aside your skepticism, to put aside your cynicism, to put aside your ideology, to put aside any consideration except this: Lives are in the balance. Lives will be lost, unless we do more than we’ve ever done.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Erin Allday and Michael Williams contributed to this report.
New actions include pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy and strengthening face covering mandate Vast majority of counties in the most restrictive tier starting tomorrow
SACRAMENTO – As COVID-19 cases sharply increase across the country and California, Governor Gavin Newsom and state public health officials announced immediate actions today to slow the spread of the virus. The state is pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy resulting in 94.1 percent of California’s population in the most restrictive tier. This change is effective tomorrow. The state will reassess data continuously and move more counties back if necessary. California is also strengthening its face covering guidance to require individuals to wear a mask whenever outside their home, with limited exceptions.
“We are sounding the alarm,” said Governor Newsom. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet –faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes. That is why we are pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Now is the time to do all we can – government at all levels and Californians across the state – to flatten the curve again as we have done before.”
The rate of growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases is faster than it was in July, which led to a significant peak in cases. This requires a swift public health response and action from all Californians to slow the spread of the virus. Immediate action will help protect individuals at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 and will help keep the state’s health care delivery system from becoming overwhelmed.
“The data we are seeing is very concerning. We are in the midst of a surge, and time is of the essence. Every day matters and every decision matters,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Personal decisions are critical, and I am I imploring every Californian to stay home if they can, wear a mask whenever they leave their homes, limit mixing, practice physical distancing and wash their hands.”
The 28 counties moving back into Tier 1 (Purple / Widespread) include:
San Luis Obispo
The nine counties moving back into Tier 2 (Red / Substantial) include:
The two counties moving back into Tier 3 (Orange / Moderate) include:
Today’s action will remain in effect until the State Public Health Officer determines it is appropriate to make modifications based on public health conditions and data.
California has taken steps to prepare the state for an increase in COVID-19 cases. The state has developed additional testing capacity to allow cases to be quickly identified, recently opening a new laboratory in Valencia that is already processing thousands of tests a day. The state is averaging 164,345 tests over the last seven days.
The state has been working in partnership with hospitals, clinics and physicians on the COVID-19 response. To support California’s health care delivery system, the state has an additional 1,872 beds available at alternate care sites outside of the system that can be made available quickly if needed to respond to a surge in cases.
California will continue to update the Blueprint for a Safer Economy based on the best available public health data and science. For more information about the Blueprint and what Californians can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit covid19.ca.gov.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Friday press briefing that schools in counties on the watch list for more than 14 days open with distance learning. Counties would need to meet strict criteria for schools to offer in-class instruction.
This marks a change in what Newsom has said in the past with the state initially giving school districts the flexibility to reopen on their own timelines in consultation with local public health officials.
Newsom also said the new reopening guidelines for schools require teachers and students in third grade and above to wear masks. There’s also a new requirement to keep students six-feet-apart.
More than half of the state’s 58 counties are on the watch list including seven Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. Being on the list puts restrictions on the ability to reopen various segments of the economy.
The California Department of Public Health created the watch list to monitor counties that experience significant changes in COVID-19 infection rates, an increase in hospitalizations, outbreaks in congregate settings or a rise in community transmission at workplaces. Counties on the list are working with the state to identify the causes for any worrisome trends and next steps to mitigate the virus spread. The watch list is constantly changing based the latest data available from public health departments.
Several school districts have already said their schools will begin the new term virtually, including Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two largest, with a combined population of 720,000 K-12 students.
San Francisco Unified School District announced this week fall semester classes will begin August 17 via distance learning exclusively.
The news, sent in a letter by Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews, notes that the district eventually hopes to implement a “hybrid approach” to learning. This involves a combination of in-person classroom learning and virtual instruction, but only “when science and data suggest it is safe to do so.”
Administrators intend to release a plan detailing ways in which virtual learning can be improved in a meeting with the San Francisco Board of Education on July 28 at 3 p.m. The “most essential details” will be shared with parents the following day.
Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino are among the other districts opting not to immediately return to classrooms.
Some districts have said they aim to open with hybrid models. The Palo Alto Unified School District recently approved a plan for distancing learning for high school and middle school students and a return to classrooms for elementary school students. The Alum Rock district in San Jose said 90% of students will continue with online school while 10% will come to class. Students in foster care and with disabilities will be prioritized for on-site school.
The decisions were made amid growing concern by teachers and parents over the state’s surge of coronavirus cases and uncertainty surrounding the safety of both students and staff on campuses. The state this week reported its second-highest one-day totals in infection rates and deaths since the start of the pandemic and more than 7,200 have died.
Many small, rural communities argue they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities where infection rates are higher. Thurmond indicated Wednesday that he agreed.
“We have some counties in this state where the number of cases is actually quite low,” Thurmond said. As long as schools in those counties follow state guidance on hand washing, six feet (1.8 meters) of spacing, maintaining physical distance and face coverings, Thurmond said, “we believe that those schools can open safely.”