Bay Area county health officials announced Friday they are speeding up the timeline to impose the governor’s latest coronavirus restrictions to quell a surge in cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
The announcement comes a day after state officials Thursday signaled that the Bay Area is expected over the next couple of weeks to see hospital intensive-care capacity drop below a 15% threshold that would trigger regional lockdowns on businesses and activities under a new state order.
“The projections we have are that that number is going to be attained in the next two weeks, so there’s no reason to wait,” said Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith. “It’s sort of like waiting to put the brakes on when you’re about to go over the cliff. If you’re going to get the public health benefit, you have to do it now.”
Alameda County health officials said late Thursday that “we may need to enact the state’s Stay-at-Home restrictions before the Bay Area region meets the threshold in order to protect ICU bed availability and save lives.”
The Bay Area is taking the lead despite being the the region with the largest buffer from triggering the state’s 15% threshold for intensive-care capacity. The state currently lists the intensive-care capacity in the Bay Area region at 25.3%. It lists Greater Sacramento at 22.2%, Southern California at 20.6%, the San Joaquin Valley at 19.7% and Northern California at 18.6%.
Health officers from Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and the City of Berkeley said in a joint news conference Friday that the new stay-at-home order in most of those counties will take effect starting 10 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6. In Alameda County, it is scheduled to take effect on Monday, Dec.7 and in Marin County on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The new restrictions will remain in place until January 4.
Santa Clara County Health Officer said the Bay Area order just moves the looming state restrictions announced Thursday up sooner.
“The only thing we’re changing is the timing,” Cody said.
Santa Clara County however is maintaining most of its order issued last weekend banning contact sports, requiring a two-week quarantine for travelers from more than 150 miles away and limiting retail capacity. Cody said that order’s retail capacity limit of 10% however will be changed to 20% to align with the state order.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Bay Area has taken a leading role in responding to the virus. In March, the region adopted a first-in-the-country lockdown that came days before Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his statewide stay-home order, also a national first in the pandemic.
But with the state now experiencing record spread of infections and hospitalizations, the region wouldn’t be the first to preempt the state in shutting down businesses and gatherings ahead of the new state mandate. Santa Clara County adopted stricter rules last weekend, as did the city and county of Los Angeles, enacting sweeping restrictions on most activities.
The state’s restrictions, which Newsom said would likely be imposed on the Bay Area in a little over a week, require Californians in affected regions to stay at home as much as possible to limit mixing with other households, which can lead to COVID-19 spread. It limits travel to critical services and restricts outdoor activities for exercise.
“Don’t mix even with a small group,” Berkeley Public Health Officer Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez said. “If you have a social bubble, it is now popped.”
Outdoor playgrounds, barbershops, hair salons and personal care services, museums, campgrounds, zoos and aquariums, theaters, wineries, bars, breweries, distilleries, family entertainment centers, card rooms, live sports and amusement parks would close. Restaurants would be limited to take-out and delivery.
But schools already open for in-person learning could continue to stay open under the state restrictions, and retailers could operate at 20% capacity. Churches could continue outdoor services.
The state’s Thursday order included in the Bay Area region the nine counties surrounding San Francisco Bay as well as Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
But Friday’s Bay Area announcement did not include health officers from San Mateo, Santa Cruz or Monterey counties. Smith noted that the Association of Bay Area Health Officers that coordinated in Friday’s announcement doesn’t include Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. As for San Mateo County, Cody would only say “that’s a question best asked of San Mateo County.”
“All of us work as a region,” Cody said, “but we are all separate jurisdictions.”
Intensive care availability at hospitals is somewhat fluid, said Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs at the California Hospital Association.
“The numbers can change daily based on available staffing and equipment,” Emerson-Shea said. “Also, the data will not include “surge beds” which aren’t specifically designated as ICU or non-ICU beds until they are actually activated by the hospital.”
Even so, John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley, said it’s not like hospitals can just crank up the number of intensive-care beds to raise their capacity.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to think you could just add beds willy-nilly,” Swartzberg said. “Staffing is the major limitation.”
The California Hospital Association said it supports Newsom’s Thursday order of additional restrictions based on intensive-care availability.
“The number of COVID-19 positive cases is rising at an alarming rate, far greater than anything California experienced in our previous summer surge,” said California Hospital Association President Carmela Coyle. “The steps taken today by the Governor are essential to stop unnecessary illness and death among Californians.”
And Swartzberg praised the Bay Area’s public health officers Friday for their work to stop the virus.
“The Bay Area has had the best leadership in the state and arguably the best leadership in the country in terms of its public health officers,” Swartzberg said. “We’ve seen that from the beginning of this pandemic. I think we have benefited from some very good health officers who work in a very collegial fashion and a culture in the Bay Area that has worked hand in glove with public health.”
Check back for more on this developing story.