Valley residents woke up Monday under a new COVID-19 stay-at-home order that prohibits in-person restaurant dining, shutters salons and limits retail in an effort to curb spiraling infections and hospitalizations.
On Sunday, the San Joaquin Valley region’s remaining intensive care unit capacity was reported at 6.6% on the state’s COVID-19 website. That’s down from an 8.6% capacity reported on Saturday and the 15% level established by Gov. Gavin Newsom to trigger new restrictions in designated regional areas.
The San Joaquin Valley region includes Fresno County and 11 others stretching from Kern to San Joaquin counties.
The new rules, which went into effect at midnight, also prohibit residents from gathering with people not in their households. On Sunday California reported a record number of new daily virus cases for the third consecutive day, with infections topping 30,000.
Restrictions are also in place in the Southern California region, and many counties in the San Francisco Bay Area — which voluntarily placed themselves under the stay-at-home order’s provisions despite having current ICU capacity above the 15% trigger.
Some law enforcement officials said they don’t plan to enforce the rules and are counting on residents to voluntarily wear masks and practice physical distancing to protect themselves during the pandemic.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims has not taken enforcement action on any COVID-19 health orders since the pandemic began. She reiterated her position in November when Newsom issued an overnight stay at home order between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“I haven’t seen any data, for instance, that shows that between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. … that cause a big spread of COVID,” Mims said at the time. “We are not going to make criminals out of normally law abiding citizens.”
In Orange County, Sheriff Don Barnes said deputies would be dispatched to calls related to potential criminal acts and to protect life and property — not to solely enforce mask-wearing or these latest stay-at-home orders.
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes said in a statement over the weekend. “Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only.”
Most Restrictive Order Since March
With coronavirus cases rising, Newsom announced a plan last week to divide the state into five regions, use intensive care unit capacity across each region as a trigger for more widespread closures.
It is the most restrictive order since Newsom imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March and comes as California grapples with soaring COVID-19 infections that have driven hospitalizations above 9,700 and the seven-day positivity rate above 10%.
The rules are expected to affect about eight in 10 California residents and will remain in place at least three weeks, meaning the lockdown will cover the Christmas holiday.
Other parts of the state could soon face the same restrictions, with the region around Sacramento reporting an ICU capacity of 18% on Sunday.
Few Fresno County ICU Beds
In Fresno County, only six licensed intensive care unit beds available on Sunday, the Fresno Bee reported.
In neighboring San Benito County, Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci on Saturday said the county’s only hospital was completely full.
“This is an alarming situation that could get much worse,” he said in a statement.
In Los Angeles County, public health officials on Sunday reported a new daily record of more than 10,000 new confirmed virus cases. Officials urged people to stay home as much as possible, adding that “even if you don’t feel sick, being around people outside your household is extremely risky.”
The explosive rise in infections began in October and is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.
Supermarkets and Other Stores Limited to 20% Capacity
Under the measures, schools that are currently open can continue to provide in-person instruction. Retailers including supermarkets and shopping centers can operate with just 20% capacity while restaurant dining and hair and nail salons must close.
Over the weekend, some Bay Area stores reported a rush of shoppers seeking to stock up before crowds were limited. In Sacramento, KCRA-TV reported a salon was booked with customers eager to get haircuts ahead of a possible order to close, though some others had called to cancel due to fear of the virus.
The order deals a blow to small businesses that have struggled to survive over nearly a year in which they were repeatedly ordered to close then allowed to reopen but with complex safety precautions. Many business owners have said they can’t afford to comply and questioned whether the virus was really spreading at their locations.
In a scathing rebuke of the latest order, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco called the business closures ridiculous. “I believe that all jobs are essential to someone,” he said.
But police in the city of Stockton said they would help enforce the state’s latest order. Police said they’d first try to educate residents about the rules, followed by a warning letter and a citation, if needed. They’ve issued three citations since the pandemic began.
Some Businesses Plan to Defy Rules
Andrew Gruel, executive chef and founder of Slapfish seafood restaurant, pointed to examples of elected officials including Newsom dining out as they urged people to limit group gatherings. Gruel said he’ll stay open for outdoor dining in Huntington Beach and other Southern California locations unless health officials can show doing so leads to a spike in cases.
“No one is following their own rules. How serious can those rules be if they’re not following their own rules?” Gruel asked in a video posted on social media.
GV Wire contributed to this report.