Essential California: Understanding the regional stay-at-home order

People wait in line at a walk-up COVID-19 testing site
People wait in line at a walk-up COVID-19 testing site at San Fernando Recreation Park on Tuesday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Dec. 4, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new “regional stay-at-home order” that will be triggered by regional ICU capacity. The new orders resemble the first-in-the-nation stay-at-home order issued by Newsom in March but will be less stringent and all-encompassing.

The writing had been on the wall for a few days, as public health officials sounded increasingly urgent alarm bells about the rapidly dwindling capacity of California’s hospital system. Things are projected to get much worse in the coming days, as the effects of Thanksgiving holiday transmission have yet to fully register in case numbers, let alone translate into hospitalizations.

“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said.


[Read the story: “Newsom orders new limits on California businesses and activities as COVID-19 soars” in the Los Angeles Times]

The governor’s announcement came as the pandemic tightened its deadly grip on California and the nation. Over the last seven days, the state has averaged 14,869 cases per day, a 47.8% increase from two weeks ago, and hospitalizations have never been higher.

Nationally, the number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time and new U.S. cases are topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released Thursday.

How will the order work?

The order divides the state into five regions — the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, Northern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — for the purpose of determining intensive care unit capacity and potential shutdowns of local services. (A full county-by-county breakdown of those regions can be found here.)

The stay-at-home order will be implemented regionally, and triggered into effect when a given region’s ICU capacity falls below 15%.


When will the order go into effect?

Once a region’s ICU bed capacity falls below 15%, the shutdown rules will take effect within 24 hours. But the overall public health order doesn’t go into effect until Saturday afternoon, so the earliest any region could see closures would be Sunday.

Newsom said he anticipated Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, Greater Sacramento and Northern California hitting the threshold sometime between the next day or two and the next week or so, depending on how hospitalizations play out on the ground.

He suggested the Bay Area may “have a few extra days,” with current projections putting them into the target range sometime from mid-to-late December.

But based on the state’s current projections, all five of the regions are expected to drop below that 15% ICU threshold sometime by the end of the month.

Once the rules go into effect in a given region, officials plan for them to be in place for at least the next three weeks. After that, any reopening of closed services and activities will be based on four-week projections of a region’s ICU capacity — suggesting the broad new restrictions could easily last through the end of the year in some communities.


What will the order actually mean once it goes into effect?

As my colleagues explain in their story, affected communities will be required to close personal service businesses, including barbershops and nail salons, playgrounds, family entertainment centers and campgrounds for overnight stays. Outdoor museums, zoos and aquariums and outdoor movie theaters will also be required to close. Restaurants will be required to return to take-out service only.

[See also: “What you need to know about California’s new stay-at-home order” in the Los Angeles Times]

Retail businesses will be limited to 20% of their customer capacity inside at any one time, with requirements for store officials to ensure there’s no indoor drinking or eating. But all retail will still be allowed to remain open, unlike what we saw in the more stringent March stay-at-home order.

The new regional stay-at-home order also prohibits nonessential travel. Hotels can stay open to support lodging needed for “critical infrastructure sectors,” but the order prohibits hotel use for tourism, leisure and other nonessential reasons.

You can still walk your dog, go on a hike or visit the beach. Trails and parks (minus playgrounds) will remain open.


My colleagues report that K-12 schools will be unaffected by the new rules, and public school campuses that were allowed to open for at least partial in-person instruction when conditions were better in early fall can remain open.

What else to know

As my colleagues report, the order is likely to exacerbate the frustration of many Californians, especially in trying to better understand how state officials calculate the relative risk of activities such as children using playgrounds and physical distancing in hair salons.

[See also: “California pioneered the COVID-19 stay-at-home lockdown. Now, it faces a backlash” in the Los Angeles Times]

Newsom said additional relief for businesses was to come, saying he was working with the Legislature on a broader relief package. He also made clear that the restrictions would be a temporary measure necessary to bend the curve, and not a permanent state.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” the governor told Californians. “We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine.”


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

A fire that erupted in Orange County’s canyon country late Wednesday quickly jumped into the nearby hillsides, whipped by Santa Ana winds and fueled by bone-dry brush. The Bond fire nearly quadrupled in size in just a few hours, exploding to about 7,200 acres by Thursday afternoon. About 25,000 residents live in the area that’s now under a mandatory evacuation order. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


A Torrance real estate developer pleaded guilty in a sprawling L.A. campaign money laundering case, closing a major chapter in a case that covered more than six years’ worth of political contributions to eight politicians. Los Angeles Times

Warner Bros. announced Thursday it will release its entire slate of 2021 films on HBO Max. The decision to put a slate of big-budget movies on a streaming service at the same time as their theatrical release marks a stunning departure from how Hollywood usually does business. Los Angeles Times


Bored with your neighborhood walk? This interactive podcast-meets-performance piece will let you try someone else’s.LAist

A surge of applicants crashed L.A. County’s restaurant aid website. The grant application portal crashed on Thursday morning, hours after it initially opened. County officials are working to resolve the problem, but it’s unclear when the site will be back online. Los Angeles Daily News

An annual ceremony to honor the burial of L.A. County’s unclaimed dead was held online for the first time Thursday. The event typically draws hundreds of people, but this year they watched the livestream on Facebook and shared their prayers in the comments section. Los Angeles Times

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The corruption scandal that engulfed San Francisco City Hall this year involves a complex and still-widening web of people and allegations. Here’s a handy graphical breakdown explaining what’s unfolding and who’s involved. San Francisco Chronicle


Prominent California Democratic strategist Nathan Ballard was arrested domestic violence charges in Napa. Ballard is a longtime friend and adviser to Gov. Newsom. Politico



Are you a resident of California who has had to go to great lengths to quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus? My colleagues would like to hear about your experiences for a story. Los Angeles Times

An emergency field hospital at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena will open Wednesday. The temporary field hospital in the practice facility building was set up earlier this year, but only used to treat a few patients. State officials said the facility will give them flexibility if regional hospital capacity is exceeded, thought they would be happy to see it remain vacant. Sacramento Bee


Need to cancel your holiday travel plans? Here’s the latest on changes and refunds. Los Angeles Times

Homeowners in an upscale Orange County neighborhood erected fencing to keep outsiders off a public trail. Laguna Niguel’s popular Long View Trail offers stunning ocean views. Orange County Register

A poem to start your Friday: “A House Called Tomorrow” by Alberto Ríos.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 73. San Diego: sunny, 72. San Francisco: sunny, 64. San Jose: sunny, 68. Fresno: sunny, 64. Sacramento: sunny, 66. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Clark James Mishler:

I arrived in Los Angeles from Michigan in August 1968 to attend Art Center. Everything was brand-new to me and the air was thick with smog. After two weeks, the pain in my eyes and chest subsided — I had finally adjusted to my new home. My first trip to LACMA was momentous. The elevator opened on the second floor and I was confronted with a gigantic painting by Franz Kline. I leaned against the wall and caught my breath. A few weeks later, the Santa Ana winds arrived and I understood why people had settled here — the view was spectacular!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.