Sonoma County and Bay Area brace for tighter pandemic restrictions
Sweeping new restrictions to be imposed around California over the coming weeks to combat a severe resurgence of the coronavirus are expected to exact an excruciating toll on consumers and business owners already struggling amid pandemic fears and limits.
Sonoma County and its Bay Area neighbors are in a more favorable position than most parts of the state, given area hospitalizations of virus patients are still at a manageable level.
But each of five California regions is expected by late December to reach a critical limit on available intensive-care hospital beds, triggering new stay-home requirements Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that greatly limit commercial operations, recreational and worshipping opportunities and social gatherings beyond what’s now allowed.
The result will be disruptive conditions slightly more liberal than those in place back in March and April after the onset of the pandemic, when county and state public health officials first adopted emergency orders that suspended all but the most essential activities, like grocery shopping and trips to the pharmacy.
Once the tighter restrictions and closures are enacted in a particular region, they will remain for three weeks. Among the hardest hit will be: restaurants, which will be limited to takeout and delivery; hair and nail salons which will be closed; stores only able to operate at 20% of customer capacity; churches curtailed to services outdoors; and hotels limited to booking overnight guests that are “essential” business travelers.
The far-reaching rules will deliver a mighty blow to personal service providers and business owners who already have made significant and costly adjustments to accommodate existing pandemic restrictions, some investing heavily only to find they now will likely have to close or further limit operations.
Certain restaurateurs, retailers and service providers are barely staying afloat as it is and could find they can’t recover after this, said Peter Rumble, chief executive of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety right now, especially in the retail sector,” Rumble said. “Members in the retail sector, who essentially make their year based on holiday spending, are profoundly concerned with what greater restrictions can mean.”
The state order calls for the stricter provisions to take effect 24 hours after hospital ICU bed capacity falls below 15% in any of the designated five regions of California. Regions with ICU bed availability greater than that would not be subject to the closures and new limits.
Newsom urged residents to bear in mind that what’s coming “is not a permanent step” but a bridge through the most challenging time of the pandemic that began in March.
The new state order comes in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, soaring hospitalizations and increasing fatalities around California and the rest of the nation. It is designed to limit social mixing and, particularly, those activities that occur indoors and involve eating, drinking and people being together for extended periods.
The ultimate goal is to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed, which is why ICU capacity for severely ill people afflicted with the virus has been established as the key factor.
Barney Aldridge, owner of The Barlow marketplace of trendy shops and food and drink establishments in Sebastopol, nonetheless called the additional restrictions “a horrific overstep of authority.”
The 12-acre trendy shopping mecca has nine eateries that have shifted operations to meet requirements of socially distanced outdoor service and will have to resort to takeout and delivery only.
“It’s been an incredible burden on all restaurants and people in service businesses on so many levels,” Aldridge said, “and it’s hugely impacted morale, well-being and has the overall effect of making hundreds of thousands of people under siege.”
In contrast, Barbara Gonnella, owner of the old Union Hotel Restaurant in Occidental, said she was saddened by the prospect of having to turn away sit-down guests — particularly given a beautiful new wooden pergola installed in front of the business just last week.
“But most importantly, it’s about the health of everyone, and our little takeout counter will be just abundant with cookies and soups and pastas and pizzas,” she said.
In Sonoma County, increased coronavirus hospitalizations and other critical patient care needs meant 79 of 82 ICU beds were occupied Thursday, meaning local hospitals were down to less than 4% of capacity. County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said local hospital leaders already have plans set to secure additional staffing if needed for surge capacity.