San Luis Obispo County will likely face a new stay-at-home order under stricter public health guidelines for Southern California counties, widely increasing coronavirus-related restrictions, San Luis Obispo County’s public health officer said at a news conference Thursday.
Dr. Penny Borenstein said the new restrictions are expected to kick in within the next few days. That could hurt a host of local businesses, religious organizations and recreational activities — ranging from restaurants and retail stores to hotels and churches.
The order applies to California regions with less than 15% intensive care availability.
The Southern California region is projected to reach the state’s ICU capacity limit by Friday. The new stay-at-home order then would go into effect within 48 hours
“After that, the state may lift the order when a region’s ICU usage drops below 85% of its capacity,” the county said.
According to county officials, San Luis Obispo County “has been grouped together with a large area of coastal and inland Southern California counties,” including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties.
What stay-at-home order would mean for SLO County?
Under the new stay-at-home order, retail stores would be limited to 20% capacity, and individual businesses would be expected to monitor the number of customers who can enter, Borenstein said.
Restaurants would be closed to indoor dining, only allowed to do takeout, pickup or delivery.
Other closures would affect bars, wineries, hair salons and campgrounds. Churches and other places of worship would be allowed to hold services in outdoor settings only.
Under the order, hotels and offices would be allowed to remain open for critical infrastructure support only, such as serving essential workers. Borenstein said the county is still seeking further definition of what constitutes “critical infrastructure.”
Types of operations considered critical infrastructure that could remain open under the stay-at-home order include schools that have opened already for in-person learning; medical and dental care offices; child care facilities and outdoor recreational facilities.
Borenstein acknowledged that community members may be discouraged to see the county reversing course on shutdown measures, but she highlighted forthcoming relief efforts at the state level, such as loans, grants and tax deferrals.
“More information is available on the state’s website, and we will try to post the same information on our website as well, as we get it sorted out,” Borenstein said.
Local coronavirus cases surge as hospitalizations stay low
Borenstein said that a stay-at-home order could help drive down the number of COVID-19 cases in San Luis Obispo County — perhaps to the extent that, when the regional order is lifted, the county could move from the purple tier of COVID-19 restrictions to the substantially less restrictive yellow tier.
San Luis Obispo County has seen more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, but hospitalizations in the county remain low. As of Thursday, there were 11 coronavirus patients at local hospitals, with only one person in the ICU, according to Borenstein.
Countywide, ICU bed capacity is at about 60%, county administrative officer Wade Horton said at Thursday’s news conference. But the metric for regional restrictions would include each of the other jurisdictions in the Southern California region.
“If we get ourselves into that yellow tier in three weeks time and the stay-at-home order is lifted (after a minimum of three weeks), and we use that time to get our case load low, we’ll be able to move forward just as quickly as the state order has been lifted,” Borenstein said.
She added that San Luis Obispo County will soon be receiving about 2,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to be allocated to health care workers and vulnerable seniors including residents of skilled nursing facilities, based on national recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Vaccine Advisory Committee.
The county said that a total of about 17,000 people fall into those two groups.
“We’ll be needing to make some additional triage decisions,” said Borenstein, adding the county will be forming a health care coalition of dentists, doctors, and emergency service workers to determine about how best to distribute vaccines.
A task force of additional sectors including community-based organizations will be formed moving forward, she added.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Borenstein said.
SLO County administrator reacts to COVID-19 restrictions
Horton said that he is frustrated that San Luiis Obispo County was grouped in with other Southern California counties that have limited ICU bed capacity, but he urged local businesses to comply with state orders.
“If you’re a small business facing the question of going out of business or complying, it’s a very difficult position to be in,” Horton said. “However, we are a subdivision of the state. I don’t get to make these decisions. As a subdivision of the state, our area of the county is subjected to those rules. … Our goal will be to educate and to try to obtain compliance.”
Horton said that the state may urge enforcement as well, which the county will have to take a look at.
“If we’re going to be locked down, let’s make the best use of it, so when we do reopen, we can jump tiers,” Horton said. “This is a difficult situation to be in, but we need to pull together as a community. Shop locally, order online locally and let’s do what we can to support our businesses.”
At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the stay-at-home order was predicated on a need to reduce the number of people gathering in groups and spreading the novel coronavirus, and keep hospital beds available for those suffering from the virus.
“I know that this is incredibly difficult,” Borenstein said at San Luis Obispo County’s news conference on Thursday. “I know that many in our community will have a hard time understanding how this is applying to our county on the basis of ICU capacity throughout the regional when it’s not impacting us in the same way.”
“We did make a plea with the state to use our hospital bed capacity,” she added, “but we do not stand alone and this is the state’s approach to drive down a remarkable resurgence of this disease at this time.”