Southern California, San Joaquin Valley under restrictions

Virus Outbreak California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Faced with a dire shortage of hospital beds, health officials announced Saturday the vast region of Southern California and a large swath of the Central Valley will be placed under a sweeping new lockdown in an urgent attempt to slow the rapid rise of coronavirus cases.

The California Department of Public Health said the intensive care unit capacity in both regions' hospitals had fallen below a 15% threshold that triggers the new measures, which include strict closures for businesses and a ban on gathering with anyone outside of your own household. The new measures will take effect Sunday evening and remain in place for at least three weeks, meaning the lockdown will cover the Christmas holiday.

Much of the state is on the brink of the same restrictions. Some counties have opted to impose them even before the mandate kicks in, including five San Francisco Bay Area counties where the measures also take effect starting Sunday.

With a new lockdown looming, many rushed out to supermarkets Saturday and lined up outside salons to squeeze in a haircut before the orders kicked in.

San Francisco resident Michael Duranceau rushed to a market to load up on supplies.

“I’m just stocking up before Sunday — the basics, bread, eggs,” he told KGO-TV, clutching a heavy grocery bag and a baguette.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new plan Thursday. It is the most restrictive order since he imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March. But the situation is bleaker than in March.

“The risk of contracting COVID in the community now is higher now than it has ever been," Dr. Eric McDonald, the medical director for San Diego County, told reporters Saturday. He and other officials urged the public to bear down, heed the rules and help the state get through the latest and worst wave of cases the state has seen.

California has tallied a staggering total of 1.3 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started, setting a new daily record on Friday when 25,068 confirmed cases were recorded.

The new order divides the state into five regions and uses ICU capacity as the trigger for closures.

The measures bar all on-site restaurant dining and close hair and nail salons, movie theaters and many other businesses, as well as museums and playgrounds. It says people may not congregate with anyone outside their household and must always wear masks when they go outside.

Under the new order, schools that are currently open can continue to provide in-person instruction; retailers including supermarkets and shopping centers can operate with just 20% customer capacity.

The 11-county Southern California region, which includes the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, had only 12.5% of its ICU beds available, the California Department of Public Health reported Saturday. The figure was 8.6% for the San Joaquin Valley region, composed of a dozen counties in the agricultural Central Valley and rural areas of the Sierra Nevada.

Together the two regions are home to more than half of California's population of 40 million.

“We are at a point where surging cases and hospitalizations are not letting up," said Dr. Salvador Sandoval, public health officer for the Central Valley city of Merced. “I can’t emphasize this enough – everyone must take personal steps to protect themselves and protect others.”