Business owners have unsurprisingly hailed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to lift stay-at-home orders across California in response to improving coronavirus conditions, but local health officials have expressed concern that it may cause residents to let down their guard.
Kathleen Ronayne reports from Sacramento for the Associated Press that the lifting of the stay-at-home order allows restaurants to serve diners outdoors and places of worship to offer services outside. Hair and nail salons and other businesses may reopen and retailers can have more shoppers in their stores.
California is experiencing a “flattening of the curve,” Newsom said during a virtual news conference on Monday. “Everything that should be up is up, everything that should be down is down case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations, ICUs.”
The metrics are markedly improved since last month, when some Southern California hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients were crafting emergency plans for rationing care.
Newsom drafted the stay-at-home order in December as virus cases spiked and in anticipation of surges from holiday gatherings. He divided the state into five regions and ultimately the order was imposed in four of them because their ICU capacity fell below the state-mandated 15%. Only rural far Northern California stayed above the threshold.
Southern California, which accounts for more than half the state population of nearly 40 million, still has an ICU capacity of 0%, according to state data. But Newsom said state modeling for the next four weeks projects cases will fall and ICU capacity will rise to 33%, the highest of any of the state’s regions.
California’s latest and worst surge of the pandemic started in mid-October. In a little more than two months the state recorded more than 2 million cases and hospitalizations grew nearly tenfold to almost 22,000.
As the sickest patients die, the death toll has exploded. The state is averaging 504 deaths a day and its total now tops 37,000, second only to New York.
Not everyone is impressed. “This new executive order is surprising,” tweeted Lena Gonzalez, a California state senator. “My quintessential question: How are low income communities of color and essential workers being impacted by this order? Why do I have to keep asking this question?”
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a University of California, Los Angeles professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, said little evidence exists to show that outdoor dining or personal care services are major sources of coronavirus spread and that the state’s overall metrics are improving.
“I think it does make sense to allow people to get back to work and get back to their lives somewhat, and to also continue to emphasize the issue of masking and physical distancing indoors” and vaccinations, he said.
In Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer stressed the need for residents to continue to abide by social distancing and mask recommendations otherwise “we’ll be in the horrible position of needing to once again backtrack.”