WILLITS, 12/3/30 — Governor Gavin Newsom announced today, at his typical social media broadcast, that the state will be implementing a new, far more restrictive stat-at-home order and other restrictions intended to curb the explosive spread of the coronavirus. When the new order is triggered many additional activities will be banned, including outdoor dining, hotel stays for tourism or anything besides essential services, all retail establishments will be reduced to 20% capacity, and personal care businesses like hair salons will once again be closed. Schools may remain open, if they had already opened before being returned to purple tier and have the necessary waivers. In Mendocino County that only applies to the youngest children in Potter Valley.
Statewide nearly 20,000 people have died of COVID-19 and nationwide the death toll stands at about 275,000, with roughly another 2,000 to 3,000 additional people dying each day across the country. However, as Dr. Facui pointed out recently, we are in the midsts of a surge on top of a surge — that is the pre-Thanksgiving surge is going to combine with another surge over cases coming out of Thanksgiving celebrations and travel. In light of this experts are predicting that intensive care units (ICUs) in parts of California could be at capacity within a couple weeks. This danger has led to ICU capacity becoming the deciding factor in triggering the new round of restrictions. Regions will be placed under new stay-at-home orders once they fall below 15% excess ICU capacity — something the governor said that officials believe will happen within the next several days for our region. According to Jason Wells, president of Adventist Health in Mendocino County, the three hospitals in Mendo have a total of 16 ICU beds, of which six are currently occupied, though most of those people are not in ICU with COVID. However, the situation in other counties included in our region differs.
In light of these ominous facts, the governor is placing both private and business activities under additional restrictions, which may eventually become reminiscent of the more severe lockdowns seen in spring. The state has been broken into five regions, to coordinate these new restrictions. Mendocino County is in the Northern California region, along with Lake, Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen and Modoc counties.
What precisely the new restrictions will be is not entirely clear, and in short interviews county officials expressed some mild consternation at the governor’s habit of making big announcements while being skimpy on specific details for local authorities.
These restrictions will come into effect 48 hours a region is officially deemed to have fallen below 15% excess capacity in ICU beds. At that point, the following business and other activities will be halted:
- Indoor AND Outdoor dining
- Barbershops, nail salons, other haircare and personal care
- Playgrounds will close
- Outdoor museums, zoos, casinos, and theaters
- Indoor AND outdoor wineries
- Overnight campgrounds
- Indoor AND outdoor bars
One major point for the Mendocino Coast is that hotel stays for all but essential workers will be curtailed. This could in effect mean the end of tourism for the Coast, though luckily coming in the off-season. Hotels will only be allowed to house people traveling for work on “essential infrastructure;” think firefighters and PG&E linemen.
Retail will also be curtailed, with all shops, including essential businesses like grocery and drug stores, reduced down to 20% capacity — this includes big box stores.
Mask use will also be mandated 100% of the time someone is in public, and social distancing will be stressed. The order will last for at least three weeks from the time it goes into effect, meaning that if the ICU threshold is hit anytime in the next couple weeks, the order will extend through Christmas at least, and likely New Years.
The new restrictions will be a stay-at-home order, meaning that individuals are required to stay at home unless out for essential purposes. While essential activities include things like work (for essential workers), grocery shopping, picking up take-out food from restaurants, and exercise and dog walking, it will likely not include visiting family. Households will be encouraged to stay more isolated, and this will likely mean that the state is strongly discouraging extended family gatherings at Christmas. However, the specifics of the new “pod” or “social bubble” size are unclear, and details will most likely come out at tomorrow’s Mendocino County Public Health press conference.
In one silver lining, the governor explained that the state had already contracted to receive doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine, and that distribution to the most at risk frontline medical workers (including doctors and nurses, but also EMTs and nursing home workers) would likely begin before the new year. The vaccine will probably not be available to the general public for some months still, but as infection among doctors and nurses is a major pinch point and danger, this vaccine will generally ease the difficulties across the system. Newsom was also at pains to stress that the vaccine would not be given out on the basis of connections, wealth, or privilege, but on the basis of how risky and essential a person’s job is in relation to the disease.