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When will California’s stay-at-home order hit my community? Here’s what to look for

A man passes by boarded-up but open storefronts during the holiday season in Union Square in San Francisco.
A man passes by boarded-up but open storefronts in Union Square in San Francisco. City health officials say a surge in coronavirus infections may trigger another lockdown.
(Gabrielle Lurie / San Francisco Chronicle)

The new stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Thursday in hopes of slowing the unprecedented spread of the coronavirus in California takes effect Saturday, and the earliest it would be imposed is Sunday.

But when — or whether — your community goes under the order depends on one key factor: It would be implemented by region and triggered when the area’s intensive care unit capacity falls below 15%.

When that occurs, regions stay under the order for at least three weeks. For the mandate to end, the region must have its forecasted ICU capacity for the next four weeks be 15% or greater. The counties can then return to the existing reopening tier system, determined by their individual coronavirus case and test positivity rates, to determine what industries can reopen.

Additional closures of California businesses and activities will be based on projections of regional intensive care unit capacity.

The regions

There are five:

  • Southern California
  • San Joaquin Valley
  • Bay Area
  • Greater Sacramento area
  • Rural Northern California

These are the counties in each region:

  • Rural Northern California: Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity
  • Bay Area: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma
  • Greater Sacramento: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba
  • San Joaquin Valley: Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne
  • Southern California: Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura

None of these regions have met the 15% ICU threshold, but all are expected to hit that mark soon.

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Four of the regions are expected to have less than 15% of ICU capacity by early December: Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the greater Sacramento area and rural Northern California. The Bay Area is expected to hit that threshold in mid- to late December.

Here’s the current available ICU capacity by region, based on actual numbers, according to the California Health and Human Services Agency:

  • Bay Area: 25.4%
  • Greater Sacramento: 22%
  • Southern California: 20.6%
  • San Joaquin Valley: 19.7%
  • Rural Northern California: 18.6%

The conditions

Data compiled by The Times show the state has averaged nearly 15,000 cases a day over the last week, triple the rate in the last month. COVID-19 hospitalizations have also tripled over the same period. And an average of 67 Californians were dying daily from COVID-19 over the last week, a 60% jump from mid-November.

Hard-hit Los Angeles County broke another record for daily coronavirus cases Thursday. Officials reported 7,713 new coronavirus cases in L.A. County, according to a Times tally, the second time in three days the daily total has surpassed 7,500.

Along with the staggering case count — which boosted the county’s infection total above 420,000 — hospitalizations also continue to hit new highs.

There are 2,668 patients with a confirmed case in hospitals countywide, according to the latest tally. That number has more than doubled from two weeks ago.

And since Nov. 15, the number of COVID-19 patients in L.A. County’s intensive care units has doubled, from 308 to 632.

Officials have said some hospital ICUs could fill later this month if trends continue.

Though hospitals can increase capacity should the need arise, they cannot perpetually do so. ICUs present a particular challenge, as they typically need specialized space, staff and equipment.

“If steps to curb transmission are abandoned, then the number of people requiring hospitalization can still overwhelm any additional capacity that hospitals are able to create,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services, said Wednesday.

There have been concerns about having enough medical staff to cover expansions in patient capacity.

State officials are considering the kind of stay-at-home order that helped curb the virus’ spread in the spring. What is unclear is whether Californians will stomach even a modified lockdown as they did in March and April.

Many of the state’s new provisions are already part of the targeted safer-at-home orders the city and county of Los Angeles have previously unveiled.

“A lot of it looks similar to some of the things that we’re already doing and have implemented in Los Angeles County — with some additional measures,” Davis said. “I think this does get closer to what we saw earlier on in the pandemic in terms of more businesses being temporarily closed.”

One difference, for instance, would be personal service businesses such as hair and nail salons, which are currently allowed to remain open with modifications. Those would be closed if L.A. County falls under the scope of the new state order.

Additionally, though L.A. County has already tightened capacity limits at nonessential retail, the state regulations would further lower the indoor cap at stores considered essential — from 25% to 20%.

The new order requires Californians to stay home and minimize their interactions with other households as much as possible.

The rules

Affected communities will be required to close personal service businesses, including hair and nail salons, playgrounds, zoos, museums, aquariums and wineries. Overnight, short-term stays at campgrounds would be prohibited. Restaurants will be required to return to takeout service only.

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.

Unlike the shutdown Newsom issued in the spring, most outdoor activities, including beach access and hiking, are not affected. Similar to other state government rules, the order allows local leaders to impose public health rules that are stricter. But stronger orders by the state would supersede more permissive local orders. That means the expected implementation of the order in Southern California would require, for example, restaurants to shutter outdoor dining currently allowed in their local jurisdiction.

The new restrictions appear to remove the distinction between essential and nonessential retail — a 20% cap on capacity at all stores is likely to significantly reduce capacity at essential retailers, including supermarkets and drugstores. In most of the state, essential stores had been capped at 50% of capacity; in L.A. County, they were capped at 35%; and in Santa Clara County, 25%.

Cardrooms will be required to shut down, and hotels won’t be allowed to accept tourists.

Entertainment production and professional sports continue to be allowed without a live audience. Santa Clara County, however, on Monday enacted a ban on contact sports, forcing the San Francisco 49ers to temporarily relocate to Arizona for the team’s December games.

Times staff writers John Myers and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.


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