Six San Francisco Bay Area counties plan to keep stay-at-home orders through the end of May but will ease some restrictions, officials announced Monday.
“Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice of the 7 million residents across our jurisdictions, we have made substantial progress in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, ensuring our local hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, and saving lives,” a statement by Bay Area health officers said.
“At this stage of the pandemic, however, it is critical that our collective efforts continue so that we do not lose the progress we have achieved together. Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely reopen our communities. Prematurely lifting restrictions could easily lead to a large surge in cases.”
The statement was sent on behalf of health officers for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties as well as the city of Berkeley, which has its own health department separate from Alameda County.
The statement did not elaborate on what kinds of restrictions would be eased.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she understood it would be challenging to endure another month of staying at home as much as possible.
“It has already been very difficult, I’m sure for many of you, especially kids who cannot play with their friends or a lot of the seniors who are graduating high school. The kids who want to go to the parks. Not being able to see your grandma or grandpa,” Breed said Monday. But, she said, “public health is our priority.”
Breed warned again of not learning the mistakes San Francisco made during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in lifting restrictions too soon, leading to a second deadly wave of flu cases.
“Folks threw off their masks and went out into the streets and partied and had a good time. And a few days later, we were even worse off than when we started. We don’t want that to happen in our city,” Breed said. “This is not an easy thing to do and to ... not only thank you for what you’ve done, but to ask you to do more.”
The region also needs time to prepare for a new way of life as restrictions are eased, she added, with changes in how restaurants, nail salons and large-scale events are operated.
“We need to stand our ground and maintain our gains. Make no mistake, this virus is still out there, and it is still a threat,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health.
He noted that the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 remains flat. While that’s good news, it’s not enough, Colfax said.
“We need numbers to start dropping significantly and just stay down for several weeks,” Colfax said. “It’s so important to look at that hospitalization rate over the next two to four weeks with a hope that that curve will decline.”
The San Francisco officials’ statements echoed what Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have said — that stay-at-home restrictions must be maintained until it’s clear that easing them won’t cause greater illness and economic disruption in the battle against the coronavirus outbreak.
“How we reopen is going to be important to ensuring that we do it responsibly so that we don’t go backward,” he said.
Breed added that testing and personal protective equipment must be adequate before any lifting of the order, and hospitals must be ready for another surge of infections.
The six Bay Area counties were the first in the nation to implement a stay-at-home order, which was issued March 16. The requirement was later used as a model for 11 other California counties in the northern Bay and Sacramento areas and California’s North and Central coasts, before Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the order statewide March 19.
The original Bay Area restrictions had an expiration date of April 7, but those were extended to May 3. Newsom’s statewide order has no end date.
The six counties Monday said they will soon “release a set of broad indicators that will be used to track progress in preparedness and response to COVID-19, in alignment with the framework being used by the State of California,” the statement said.
The region will need to ensure the healthcare system is able to meet demand, they said. Officials have already said they expect coronavirus cases to rise when stay-at-home orders ease.
“This global pandemic of COVID-19 is still in its early stages. The virus spreads easily, testing capacity is limited and expanding slowly and vaccine development is just beginning. We expect to be responding to COVID-19 in our communities for a long time. As effective as our efforts have been, if we move too fast to ease restrictions, the potential of exponential spread could have grave impacts to health and wellness of our residents as well as the economy,” the officials said.
Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, said last week the discovery that the coronavirus was infecting people — undetected — earlier than they had thought in Silicon Valley illustrated how important the shelter-in-place order is to slow the spread of the virus.
“We anticipate that this pandemic is going to be going on for a very, very, very long time. We know that we do not have immunity in the population. Nor do we have a vaccine,” Cody said. “So any time that we let up on our mitigation measures, we are going to expect to see a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That is certain.”
Two northern Bay Area counties have already extended their stay-at-home orders. Solano County, which includes Vallejo and Fairfield, extended its order through May 17.
Napa County announced its stay-at-home order will now be in effect indefinitely, but with the following changes:
• Permits construction with proper physical distancing.
• Permits drive-in religious services with proper physical distancing.
• Permits in-person residential real estate viewings with proper protocols.
• Permits landscaping and gardening maintenance that is not purely for cosmetic purposes.
• Allows the use of golf courses and driving ranges with documented protocol.
• Strongly recommends the use of cloth face coverings when outside the home.