Bay Area Counties Order Preemptive Shutdown as Covid Patients Fill ICUs

(CN) — Five San Francisco Bay Area counties announced Friday their jurisdictions will voluntarily implement California Governor Gavin Newsom’s regional stay-at-home order this weekend, moving earlier than required to enact restrictions in order to curb transmission of Covid-19 before health care systems become overwhelmed.

On Thursday, Newsom announced stay-at-home orders would be issued for California counties with less than 15% intensive care unit capacity remaining at their hospitals. 

Under Newsom’s order, which takes effect Saturday, counties with ICUs that reach 85% full will be required to close except for essential services and retail at 20% capacity.

Over 2,000 Californians are currently in ICUs statewide, a pandemic record.

Health officers of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin and Santa Clara counties said Friday they’re not waiting for ICU capacity to reach critical levels and will adopt Newsom’s order ahead of schedule.

“It takes several weeks for new restrictions to slow rising hospitalizations and waiting until only 15% of a region’s ICU beds are available is just too late,” San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragon said in a statement. “Many heavily impacted parts of our region already have less than 15% of ICU beds available, and the time to act is now.”

As of Thursday, the state’s Greater Sacramento and Southern California regions had just 22% and 20% of their ICU beds available, respectively, while the largely rural San Joaquin Valley and Northern California regions had 19% and 18% of ICU beds available, respectively.

California’s Bay Area region had 25% of ICU beds available, but the figure obscures critical situations in counties on the brink of overwhelming their hospital capacity.

The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Contra Costa County has doubled in the last two weeks and ICU beds are currently 75% full, according to county health data.

In Santa Clara County, where ICU beds are 83% full, Health Officer Sara Cody said Friday that while the regional order will negatively impact businesses, the restrictions will prevent further deaths in weeks to come.

“We cannot wait until after we have driven off the cliff to pull the emergency break,” Cody said. “However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner.” 

San Francisco, Santa Clara and Contra Costa’s stay home orders will be enacted Dec. 6 at 10 p.m. Alameda County’s order will take effect Monday and Marin County’s order will begin Tuesday.

The city of Berkeley, located in Alameda County, is also adopting the regional stay home order earlier than required. The city’s health official, Lisa B. Hernandez, said in the statement every resident should recognize their role in fighting viral spread.

“Keep your family safe by avoiding even small gatherings outside of your household and not traveling,” Hernandez said. We don’t want holiday gatherings and travel to create a spike of cases on top of the surge we’re already seeing.” 

All orders will remain in place until Jan. 4, officials said.  

Closures will extend to hair salons, movie theatres and museums as well as bars, wineries and breweries. Schools that have already resumed classes can stay open and retailers can continue operations at 20% capacity, while restaurants will only be open for takeout.

State officials said Thursday that once hospital capacity improves, individual counties can go back to the tiered-colored method of reopening based on infection rates that has been in place since August.

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