LOS ANGELES (CNS)—As expected, a regional stay-at-home order in effect across Southern California due to surging COVID-19 hospitalizations was formally extended Dec. 29, continuing a ban on all gatherings of people from different households and in-person dining and setting strict capacity limits at many businesses.
The state’s regional order, which covers an 11-county Southern California area, took effect at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 6 and was set to expire Dec. 28. But with the region’s intensive care unit (ICU) capacity at hospitals still effectively listed at zero percent, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Dec. 28 the order was all but certain to be extended.
The state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, made it official Dec. 29, saying incoming COVID-19 patients are expected to continue exceeding hospital ICU capacity in the region over the next four weeks.
The order was not extended for any specific time frame. Ghaly said the four-week projections are evaluated daily, and the region can emerge from the stay-at-home order when the projection indicates its ICU capacity will rise above 15 percent.
With the Southern California region’s current ICU capacity is still listed at zero percent—and health officials anticipating case numbers and hospitalizations to rise throughout January based on gatherings that likely occurred for Christmas and will again for New Year’s Eve despite warnings—the region is expected to remain under the order for weeks to come.
The Southern California region covers Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties.
Most broadly, the order bars gatherings of people from different households.
“We must continue to do our part to protect each other by engaging in fewer activities with fewer people, keeping masks on anytime you leave the house, and staying home,” the California Department of Health said on Twitter.
The Latest Numbers
On Dec. 29, Orange County continued its daily record-setting pace of COVID-19 hospitalizations, but there are signs that the Thanksgiving-related surge is beginning to plateau, health experts said.
The county added 75 more COVID-19 patients since Dec. 28, including 20 more in intensive care. The number of hospitalized patients rose to 2,106, up from 2,031 on Dec. 28 , with ICU patients rising from 453 to 473.
The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remained at zero, while the unadjusted figure increased from 5.9 percent on Dec. 28 to 8.9 percent on Dec. 29. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-COVID.
The county reported 2,453 more COVID-19 cases, raising the cumulative to 152,059. One additional fatality—an assisted living facility resident—increased the death toll to 1,847.
Newsom noted Dec. 28 that COVID-19 hospital admissions have begun to plateau across much of the state—except in Southern California, with Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties continuing to be the hardest hit.
Los Angeles County on Dec. 27 extended its local stay-at-home order, which essentially mirrors the state’s restrictions.
Los Angeles County has rapidly become the epicenter of the pandemic in the state, with the state reporting more than 7,400 COVID-19 patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Dec. 29, including nearly 1,500 in ICU beds. Newsom said 96 percent of Los Angeles County hospitals diverted ambulances to other facilities at some point over the weekend due to overcrowding in emergency rooms—up from a normal average of 33 percent of hospitals going on diversion.
According to Newsom, L.A. County hospitals on average spent 16 hours on diversion over the weekend, unable to find space for emergency patients.
Enforcing the Mandate
The question remains as to how the COVID-19 mandate will be enforced in Orange County, where public officials already have said they will not use personnel or resources to police at least parts of the orders.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes announced in early December that deputies would not enforce the regional stay-at-home order.
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes said in a Dec. 5 news release. “Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only.”
Newsom had harsh words for counties and county officials who continue to “thumb your nose” at health orders. He singled out Riverside County, where Sheriff Chad Bianco has publicly criticized Newsom and said his agency would not be “blackmailed” into becoming an enforcement arm of state health officials.
Newsom has said repeatedly that counties that don’t adhere to health restrictions would lose state funding.
“We’re in the midst of a pandemic,” Newsom said. “I don’t know what more evidence you need, particularly, as highlighted, Riverside County is experiencing what they’re experiencing in ICUs and hospitals and lives lost. I mean, what more evidence do you need that trying to enforce good behavior will actually save lives? It’s a noble and right thing to do.
“To dismiss as many have in the past and some of the same folks … some still holding onto this as a hoax or face coverings don’t matter. … They’re not helping. They’re not advancing that cause, and so we will be assertive as we have been, we will be aggressive, as we have been.”
Bianco, in a video message posted online earlier this month, called state health mandates “flat-out ridiculous,” while calling Newsom’s stances hypocritical in light of his criticism of the federal government for withholding funds from states, and following Newsom’s well-publicized attendance at a dinner party in spite of his own regulations against such gatherings.
Bianco told residents in his message to wear a mask and practice social distancing, but said, “While the governor’s office and the state has threatened action against violators, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department will not be blackmailed, bullied, or used as muscle against Riverside County residents in the enforcement of the governor’s orders.”
Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities were forced to close:
—indoor recreational facilities;
—hair salons and barbershops;
—personal care services;
—museums, zoos, and aquariums;
—bars, breweries, and distilleries;
—family entertainment centers;
—cardrooms and satellite wagering;
—live audience sports; and
Schools with waivers can remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20 percent of capacity.
Restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery service only.
Hotels are allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support only,” while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services.
Entertainment production—including professional sports—would be allowed to continue without live audiences.
Four of the five regions carved out by the state are under stay-at-home orders, covering 98 percent of the state’s population. Only far northern California is not under a stay-at-home order.
Alex Murashko of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.