Stay-at-home orders extended in SoCal, San Joaquin Valley as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations soar

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As predicted, a regional stay-at-home order in effect due to surging COVID-19 hospitalizations was formally extended Tuesday in the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions.

The stay-at-home order remains in place for at least three weeks and is lifted once the state projects that ICU capacity will be at or above 15% in four weeks.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said four-week projections in both regions show that demand will continue to exceed ICU capacity, so the state will continue to restrict all gatherings of people from different households, in-person dining and enforce capacity limits at many businesses.

Tuesday's announcement means that 23 counties will remain under the order indefinitely.

Dr. Ghaly said the state will continue to run its projections and monitor whether the orders will be lifted in either region. "It is not to say it is there again for another three weeks, it could be shorter than that."

Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities were forced to close:
  -- indoor recreational facilities;
  -- hair salons and barbershops;
  -- personal care services;
  -- museums, zoos, and aquariums;
  -- movie theaters;
  -- wineries;
  -- bars, breweries and distilleries;
  -- family entertainment centers;
  -- cardrooms and satellite wagering;
  -- limited services;
  -- live audience sports; and
  -- amusement parks.

Schools with waivers can remain open, along with "critical infrastructure" and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity. Restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery service only. Hotels are allowed to open "for critical infrastructure support only," while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services. Entertainment production -- including professional sports -- would be allowed to continue without live audiences.

The Greater Sacramento and the Bay Area regions are eligible to exit the order as soon as Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, if ICU capacity improves. However, their orders could also be extended if ICU capacity is below 15%.

Northern California is the only region not under a stay-at-home order.

"Much of what we're dealing with is avoidable," said Dr. Ghaly, imploring Californians to stay the course and work collectively to drive transmission down. "Much of what we are seeing can be stopped if we collectively make decisions to stop it. And those decisions are to wear our masks, to stay at home as much as we can at this critical time, and when we do go out, to make sure that we keep physically distanced and we don't mix with anybody outside of our household for the time being."

"We are in this moment where it can really make a difference, that each of us has the tool and the power to save a life."

City News Service contributed to this story.