Many Orange County businesses, along with Southern California, will be shut down beginning tomorrow because the region’s intensive care unit capacity has significantly dropped due to skyrocketing coronavirus hospitalizations and case rates.
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As of Friday, Southern California’s ICU capacity took a dramatic hit, dipping from roughly 20% of beds available on Friday to just over 13%, triggering the regional shutdown order because the capacity dipped below 15%.
The order goes into effect at 1 p.m. today and businesses have 24 hours to comply. It stays for three weeks.
In Orange County, where county supervisors have largely protested the governor’s approach to shutdowns, County Supervisor Don Wagner, in a Saturday morning tweet, called for OC to file a letter of support in a lawsuit against the state to overturn the order.
Wagner, a chief critic of state coronavirus mandates and guidelines among the Supervisors, said the shutdown will tank businesses.
“On Tuesday, I’m proposing a resolution for local control & looking to file a legal amicus brief opposing the governor’s order. Keep taking safety precautions as we get through this.”
Orange County is seeing an unprecedented spike in hospitalizations.
The county saw its hospitalizations rise by nearly 100 in one day, which has never before happened in OC during the pandemic.
As of Saturday, 842 people were hospitalized, including 193 in intensive care units, according to state data.
That’s a more than fourfold increase since Nov. 1, when 183 people were hospitalized.
In comparison, gradual hospitalization increases led to the mid-July peak of 722 people in hospitals. But the average amount of new daily cases was decreasing at that time.
Unlike July, this new hospitalization peak comes at a time when OC’s new cases are increasing, averaging roughly 1,100 new cases a day for the past week.
State public health officials estimate 12 to 13% of new cases end up in hospitals two to three weeks down the road. The officials, along with local public health experts, fear an incoming Thanksgiving case spike.
The order shuts down nonessential businesses like nail salons, barber shops, outdoor gyms and outdoor dining within 24 hours. Although restaurants will be allowed to do take out and delivery, similar to the previous stay home order in March.
Many of the other businesses listed in the order, like bars and movie theaters, are already closed because OC is in the most restrictive tier on the state’s reopening plan.
Retailers like department stores and shopping malls won’t be closed, but will have to keep the number of people inside the stores to 20% of the building’s occupancy limits.
“We want to mitigate mixing. Period. Full stop,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the Thursday news conference.
The order also shuts down outdoor playgrounds, overnight camping and blocks hotel stays from out-of-state nonessential travelers, unless hotels can quarantine them for two weeks.
As usual with such shutdowns, there are tons of questions but officials aren’t fielding many questions.
Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Health and Human Services agency, gave reporters at a public press conference last week broad answers why the order closes barbershops, but not indoor malls and other crowded shopping businesses.
“We want to diminish the amount of mixing and we really need to send that message broadly. And we need to create less opportunities for the kind of contact, and the extended period and extended time of contact that occurs in many of these establishments,” Newsom said.
Ghaly didn’t specifically address many reporters’ questions.
But, he said the chances of someone coming into contact with an infected person have significantly increased.
“What we know is where you are not able to mask entirely or consistently, where they are indoors rather than outdoors, where physical distance is difficult to maintain … today they’re all a little more risky than they were a month ago,” Ghaly said.
The order also sparked confusion about schools, which can stay open if they’ve already reopened classrooms.
Thursday’s stay home order announcement was slated to happen at noon, but it was delayed by half an hour. The order also wasn’t publicly released until later that evening, roughly 6 hours after the announcement.
Bernadette Boden-Albala, dean of public health at UC Irvine, said she’s concerned about virus transmission happening in malls and similar businesses because the coronavirus is so widespread.
“This is about risk reduction and trying to come up with strategies for your own life that have less risk exposure than more risk exposure,” Boden-Albala said in a Tuesday phone interview.
She said people should avoid crowded stores and go at times when the businesses are less crowded.
Boden-Albala also said people should also avoid gathering with people they don’t live with for dinners or parties — something that public health experts are also concerned about.
“There isn’t anybody out there, including myself, that doesn’t have pandemic fatigue. We’re tired of it, we want to get back to normal. People are depressed, they’re isolated. Then we see some people had very mild COVID, so we get into a false sense of security,” she said.
“The difference between now and July and March is that there are a number of vaccines either going into or under FDA review. So we will be there,” Boden-Albala said. “We just have to hold out a little longer.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio