The spread of the COVID-19 virus has reached an alarming rate, prompting Bay Area health officers to implement the state's new regional stay-at-home order in the coming days rather than wait until local hospitals are near crisis, they said during a press conference on Friday afternoon.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that many sectors other than retail and essential operations would be closed in regions of the state where less than 15% of intensive care unit beds are available under a new regional stay-at-home order.
Santa Clara County reached that metric on Friday, with 14% ICU bed capacity, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. The average percentage of ICU beds filled with COVID-19 patients has tripled in the last month. Thursday brought a new record of 67 new patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 and each day breaks a previous record, she said. (On Friday, the county recorded 46 new COVID-19 patients.)
Health officers from Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin counties and the city of Berkeley said they would be enacting the early order starting Dec. 6, 7 or 8 through Jan. 4 to try to reduce the stress on their hospital resources and staff.
The orders will become effective as follows: Santa Clara, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties, Sunday at 10 p.m.; city of Berkeley and Alameda County, Monday at 12:01 a.m.; and Marin County, Tuesday at noon. San Mateo County did not join the regional health officers in issuing the early order.
"We are in an especially dangerous period of the COVID-19 epidemic," Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Christopher Farnitano said. "December will be the dark COVID winter we feared would come."
He and the other health officers did not think they could wait. The current situation is an emergency, he added.
There is a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Contra Costa County and across the region, according to Farnitano. "The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in our county has doubled in just the past couple of weeks, and we are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity later this month if current trends continue," he said.
"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. "Many heavily impacted parts of our region already have less than 15% of ICU beds available, and the time to act is now." He added that there is no place to transfer patients with nearly three-quarters of all beds filled in the Bay Area.
Aragon said that every person who tests positive infects another one-and-a-half people. For every case they do detect, six to 10 cases go undetected. "This virus is relentless and unforgiving," he said.
Dr. Lisa Hernandez, health officer for the city of Berkeley, urged the public to take the order seriously. People should not travel for the upcoming holidays, nor gather or meet with anyone outside of their own household, even outdoors.
"If you have a social bubble, it is now popped. Do not let this be the last holiday with your family," she said.
The order follows the state's restrictions under the regional stay-home order. Bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops will be closed. Retail stores and shopping malls will also be limited to 20% of capacity; restaurants will be closed for indoor and outdoor dining but may have takeout and deliveries.
Schools that have already opened for in-person instruction and critical infrastructure such as grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies will remain open.
Contra Costa Health Services listed out the open and closure status of most sectors in the Bay Area under the new health order in an online "Openings at a Glance" worksheet on Friday afternoon.
The closure list also includes activities and businesses such as drive-in events, family entertainment centers, recreational team sports, public events and gatherings, and movie theaters.
Able to remain open -- with social distancing and face covering rules in place -- are locations such as vehicle repair shops, parks (but no playgrounds), construction, outdoor gyms/fitness activities, hotels for essential travel, laundromats, real estate, professional film or media production, places of worship (outside only) and outdoor recreation facilities such as tennis courts, sports fields and golf courses (without food or beverage).
The Golden State Warriors are allowed to continue practice and future game activities under San Francisco rules, but the San Francisco 49ers -- and the San Jose Sharks, if/when their preseason gets underway -- are currently unable to operate in their home facilities under Santa Clara County rules.
In announcing their preemptive order Friday, the health officers said that they often work collaboratively and provide hospital and ICU beds when hospitals in another county are overwhelmed. They would do the same during the COVID-19 crisis, but they want to make sure they would have enough beds to serve their patients and handle any overload, if necessary.
"We cannot wait until after we have driven off the cliff to pull the emergency brake. We understand that the closures under the state order will have a profound impact on our local businesses. 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," Cody said.
Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss said the rising hospitalization rates across the region threaten not only community members with severe COVID-19, but anyone who may need care because of a heart attack, stroke, accident or other critical health need.
"By acting together now we will have the greatest impact on the surge and save more lives," he said.
San Mateo County officials issued a statement on Friday afternoon supporting the other Bay Area health officials, but stopped short of issuing the restrictions.
"As other Bay Area Health officials today announced that they would impose new local stay-at-home orders, the County of San Mateo remains focused on following the state's existing metrics and process, while reinforcing the public's responsibility to comply with existing safety measures — especially avoiding gatherings — to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season.
"Accordingly, while the County understands and appreciates the measures taken by the other Bay Area counties, San Mateo will not at this time be issuing a new local stay-at-home order and will continue to work with business and community leaders on adherence to existing guidelines. San Mateo County remains in the purple Tier 1 on the state’s four-tier, color-coded system for restricting and loosening activities," county officials said.
"We know our residents have sacrificed and patience is growing thin, but we need you to know that you have the power to curb the spread and preserve hospital capacity for those who will need care in the coming weeks. We can get through this together if each of us takes action now to social distance, wear face coverings and avoid gatherings," San Mateo County Manager Michael Callagy said in the statement.
To further clarify the status of school openings, Moss and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe released a joint statement on Friday explaining that "schools already open for in-person instruction may stay open," but "schools that have not yet opened for in-person instruction cannot open."
Small group cohorts are allowed to continue on campus. No new elementary school reopening waivers are being accepted, while middle and high school reopening waivers are not being issued under state regulation -- meaning the emphasis remains on remote learning for most schools.
"As always, please continue to wear a face covering whenever you leave home, maintain at least 6 feet of distance from anyone you do not live with, wash your hands frequently and avoid gathering or traveling for the holidays. All of these things will help to drive down case rates and move us more quickly toward the school reopenings we all want to see," Moss and Monroe said.
The sector closures and restrictions as outlined in state's regional stay-at-home order can be found here.
Editor's note: DanvilleSanRamon.com editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.