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California Is Days Away From A Regional Stay-At-Home Order

A minimum three-week stay-at-home order is expected in much of California as hospitals experience an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
Jae C. Hong
A minimum three-week stay-at-home order is expected in much of California as hospitals experience an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

Updated at 9:05 p.m. ET

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced most of the state will come under a stricter set of limitations as intensive care units reach near-capacity levels with the latest surge in coronavirus cases.

Regional stay-at-home orders will likely go into effect "in the next day or two" in places with less than 15% ICU availability, Newsom explained in a daily briefing with reporters.

Once it is triggered, the order will remain in effect for at least three weeks and will only be lifted when ICU capacity becomes more available.

"The bottom line is, if we don't act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed," Newsom said. "If we don't act now, we'll continue to see our death rate climb, more lives lost."

The state has been divided into five regions — Northern California, Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — that will individually activate Newsom's order which prohibits private gatherings of any size, closes many businesses with the exception of critical infrastructure and requires masks and physical distancing in all public settings.

Personal service businesses, including hair and nail salons will be required to close. Retail stores will be allowed to remain open but must limit customer capacity to 20% at any given time. Restaurants, which had been allowed to serve in-person dining, must return to takeout only.

While announcing the closures, Newsom encouraged people to spend time outdoors "for your mental health." Beaches, parks and hiking trails will stay open, although municipal leaders can choose to initiate their own shutdowns to head off the spread of the virus.

Newsom's announcement will have a limited impact on much of California, which already has a statewide curfew, banning nonessential movement from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Los Angeles county, the state's most populous, has already implemented a stay-at-home order and banned in-person dining.

The state plan also comes on the heels of an order by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who prohibited residents from interacting with anyone outside of their immediate household with the exception of those attending protests or religious services. Los Angeles also has a curfew and requires anyone traveling into the city to file an online form.

Similarly, the city of San Jose has a 14-day quarantine for people traveling to the area from 150 miles or more away.

All but one of the Bay Area counties are already in the "purple," or most restrictive, tier. Most people already have been required to work from home.

Although Newsom stressed the "life and death" consequences of obeying the latest restrictions, he offered optimism about the state's ability to "bend the curve" of the terrifying surge that has overwhelmed health care delivery systems in recent weeks.

"This is not a permanent state," he repeated.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel," he added, noting the imminent arrival of coronavirus vaccines.

Newsom reassured residents that officials are "not anticipating having to do this again."

But he added, "We need to do everything we can to stem the tide."

California has reported more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 19,400 deaths. The number of new cases on Wednesday surpassed all previous records, with 20,759 new reported infections.

Public health officials say the impact of COVID-19 cases that will likely result from travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend have yet to be recorded.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.