Orange County and the rest of Southern California fell under sweeping new health restrictions Dec. 6 due to the rapidly increasing number of hospitalizations from the coronavirus, just after the county reported one of its largest daily totals of new coronavirus cases.
A state-mandated, regional stay-at-home’ order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 6, triggered when intensive-care unit bed availability remained below 15 percent after Dec. 5’s daily update, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The 11-county Southern California region’s available ICU capacity was 12.5 percent Dec. 5, a decrease from 13.1 percent the day before. Orange County had 20 percent of its ICU beds available, but that number is expected to decline later when the county releases its daily update.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had said Dec. 3 that the Southern California region could meet that trigger within days. The Southern California region consists of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
The stay-at-home order will be in place for three weeks and will bar gatherings of people from different households. Regions will be eligible to exit from the order on Dec. 28 if ICU capacity projections for the following month are above or equal to 15 percent.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 1,966 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths Dec. 5, bringing the county’s totals to 84,853 cases and 1,618 fatalities. The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus jumped by almost 100—from 746 to 842, a new high. The number of patients in intensive care dropped from 195 to 193. The ICU high—245—was set in mid-July.
The percentage of ICU beds available in Orange County stands at 18 percent, down from 20 percent on Dec. 4. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Dec. 5 that his deputies would not be enforcing the order.
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes said. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Department will remain consistent in our approach. 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. Deputies will respond to calls for potential criminal behavior and for the protection of life and property. Our actions remain consistent with the protections of constitutional rights.
“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we must remain diligent in preventing the spread of the virus by following public health recommendations, like wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing. Conversely, policy makers must not penalize residents for earning a livelihood, safeguarding their mental health, or enjoying our most cherished freedoms.”
Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities will be forced to close:
—indoor and outdoor playgrounds
—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 will be allowed to remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20 percent of capacity. Restaurants will be restricted to takeout and delivery service only.
Hotels would be 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.
Some of those restrictions are already in effect in select counties.
California has grouped its counties into five regions: The Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento Region, Northern California, the San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.
The San Joaquin Valley will also enter the new shutdown protocol Dec. 6, as its ICU availability dropped to 8.6 percent on Dec. 5.
Hospitals in Orange County are struggling to staff ICU beds, which require a higher degree of training for nurses to manage.
“Like many hospitals throughout the state, Orange County Global Medical Center is working hard to treat the surge in COVID-19 patients,” said Derek Drake, chief executive of the hospital. “While we are not yet at capacity, additional ICU staffing is needed. Despite these challenges, our health care workers are doing a tremendous job and displaying their selflessness, talent, and skills on a daily basis to help serve our patients and communities.”
The state’s tiered monitoring system metrics are updated every Tuesday. The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 rose from 18.7 on Nov. 30 to 22.2 on Dec. 2, with the positivity rate going up from 7.6 percent to 8.8 percent.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, stands at 13 percent, nearly three times higher than last reported, on Nov. 10.
All of the county’s metrics now fall within the state’s most-restrictive, purple, tier of the four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.
Vaccines are now expected to be distributed to each county to be doled out to each hospital, Orange County chief executive Frank Kim said. Before, the plan was for regional hospital systems to get the vaccines directly while the counties doled out the medicine to individual hospitals.
The county received 25,745 test results on Dec. 5, upping the cumulative to 1,538,494. There have been 61,716 documented recoveries.