State lifts Bay Area pandemic lockdown that loosens restrictions in Sonoma County
Although the coronavirus continues infecting Sonoma County residents at an alarming rate and more people in the community have died in January than any month in the pandemic, severe regional restrictions on businesses and public life were eased Monday by the governor and state health officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted regional stay-home orders statewide, including a Bay Area order, a move met with surprise and even dismay by some health officers and medical professionals who questioned the action while the virus rages.
Although they are incremental modifications, they will give the local economy a much-needed lift after the level of joblessness spiked in December, reversing steady monthly improvements since last April.
The most significant effects of the action are the resumption of outdoor dining service at area restaurants and brewpubs, haircuts and a slew of personal care services at salons and barbershops, along with people getting the go-ahead to gather with small groups of friends and go to the gym for outdoor workouts.
Trying to strike a delicate balance with the shift from a monthlong lockdown back to stiff but more moderate limitations, the health officer joined county leaders and local hospital officials in pleading with residents for caution and adherence to mask wearing and physical distancing despite being tired of isolation.
Mase urged residents to remain “vigilant” until the vaccine against COVID-19 is widely distributed.
“It’s not as if COVID has gone away,” said Dr. Chad Krilich, medical director for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, the owner of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “I think everybody knows that. I think it’s important we continue to do the things that limit the spread ... social distancing, masks, hand-washing. Even if you have been vaccinated, you do these things to reduce the likelihood of spread.”
To speed the vaccine rollout that began last month, county health officials also said Monday they will partner with a private company to open a vaccination clinic Wednesday in Rohnert Park so people 75 years and older to get inoculated.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Public Health’s action Monday lifted the regional stay-home orders for the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions, all of which had been triggered in mid-December by hospitals available beds for virus patients needing intensive care sharply on the decline. The governor also removed the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. state curfew, but San Francisco kept it in place.
County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase had the authority to maintain stricter local public health regulations, but decided against that.
“We look like we’re in a better place than we have been in the last six weeks,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a trend yet. But certainly our number of cases per day have come down. We’re more in the 100-200 cases per day now than 200-300, which we were seeing just a month ago. So things look like they’re going in the right direction.”
Still, the spreaad of the virus remains rampant in Sonoma County and deaths related to complications from the infectious disease are mounting. From Jan. 18 to 24, the county averaged about 205 new cases per day. That’s an improvement from earlier in the month, when there were almost 315 new daily cases from Jan. 4 to 13 — but worse than any point of the pandemic before mid-December.
Furthermore, county officials have reported 59 deaths in January, the highest monthly total surpassing the previous pandemic record of 43 in August. Overall, 251 local residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began last March death and about 25,000 residents have been infected.
With state health officials lifting the lockdown, California’s 58 counties return to levels of restrictions attached to the state’s four-stage, color-coded reopening plan. For Sonoma County, that means life in the purple tier, which includes the stiffest rules of the multifaceted regimen to combat widespread virus transmission.
To advance, the county would have to record no more than 7 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents on a rolling seven-day average and a virus test positivity rate of 8% or lower. As of Monday, those numbers were at 41.4 per 100,000 and 9.6%, respectively. Comparatively, in December when Mase had announced the stringent stay-home order would go into effect, there were 25 new daily virus cases per 100,000 residents and 162 local residents had lost their lives to COVID-19.
In the purple reopening stage where the county has been since late August when the state unveiled its new reopening guidance, retail shops are limited to 25% customer capacity; gyms, churches and museums can only operate outside; and social gatherings must be outdoors and include no more than 12 people from three households.