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Sonoma County issues stay-home order to slow spread of coronavirus

What You Can And Can’t Do Under Sonoma County’s New COVID-19 Stay-Home Order

These activities are allowed to continue in some capacity:

Retail operations at 20% except for grocery stores, which will be at 35% capacity.

Schools that have received waivers will be allowed to continue operation.

Churches and other places of worship can hold outdoor services.

Restaurants allowed to offer takeout and delivery.

Gyms are outdoor / online.

Hotels, vacation rentals and other lodging only allowed to serve those traveling for essential work or for COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Playgrounds are open.

The following operations will be required to cease both indoor and outdoor services:

Hair salons and barbershops

Personal care services

Movie theaters (except for drive-in theaters)

Wineries, bars, breweries and distilleries (except for operations related to production, manufacturing, distribution and retail sales for off-site consumption)

Family entertainment centers

Museums, zoos and aquariums

Live audience sports

Amusement parks

The health order is available at SoCoEmergency.org. Residents can learn more about what activities are restricted by visiting covid19.ca.gov.

Information from Sonoma County

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Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Sonoma County residents Saturday will again face strict limits on public life and commerce with a new stay-home order from the county’s health officer to counter the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in the past 10 days and blunt what local data suggest about the challenging weeks ahead.

Much like the sudden and painful restrictions issued in March at the start of the pandemic, the county’s new rules — taking effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and set to expire Jan. 9 — will be another blow to some of the county’s core economic sectors and small businesses, ending dining at restaurants and service at breweries and wineries, halting nonessential hotel and vacation home stays and barring services like haircuts.

The new limits come as the rate of new infections has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, straining the county’s ability to contact individuals with the coronavirus to help them isolate and determine where they were infected and who else may have been exposed, Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said.

While virus infections were once more centralized with outbreaks at work sites and elder care facilities, people are now contracting COVID-19 in a broad geographic area of the county, Mase said. One model shows the potential for 53 people to die from complications of coronavirus within the next 30 days.

Mase said those factors lead to the most crucial benchmark: the ability for hospitals to handle more people falling seriously ill with the disease. A Thursday morning call with hospital officials concerned about the potential for a surge in cases to overwhelm their resources cemented her decision it was time to act, she said.

“We need to deal with the increase in cases and hospitalizations,” Mase said. “I really understand how difficult this is for the business community, but hang in there. The sooner we put these restrictions in place, I'm hoping, the sooner that in the new year, we'll be able to open and open safely.”

Under the order, retail operations will be allowed to continue at 20% of customer capacity, or 35% capacity for stand-alone grocery stores.

Schools that have received waivers will be allowed to continue operation. Outdoor services are allowed at places of worship. Families can take their children to playgrounds.

All residents should stay home apart from essential work and errands and outdoor recreation for health-sustaining activities. The order bars all gatherings outside the home of any size, a move that addresses a relatively small but notable driver in infection spikes seen repeatedly after holidays since the first case of the coronavirus was detected locally in March, according to county data.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said she supported Mase’s decision but also lamented the incredible sacrifices county residents have already had to make throughout the year due to the pandemic and major fires.

She noted the new stay-home order was coming at a time with no new federal stimulus to help people and business owners make ends meet — yet there is also the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the first doses scheduled to arrive next week.

“It is a big decision, but it’s the right decision,” Gorin said.

The county order comes a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-home order for all regions of the state where intensive care unit bed availability dropped below 15%. The ICU capacity for the Bay Area has declined from 25.7% at the start of the week to 17.8% on Thursday. The stay-home order is already in effect in two of the five regions, Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, and will take effect in the Greater Sacramento region Friday morning.

Two days after the governor’s order, other areas of the Bay Area including San Francisco, Santa Clara, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and the city of Berkeley preemptively ordered people to stay home though the region’s ICU bed capacity had not yet dipped below 15%.

Over the past 30 days, California cases have increased from about 6,000 per day to nearly 30,000 per day. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has reached an all-time high of 12,477 people, and state projections show ICUs will be severely impacted if cases continue to climb.

Dr. Jenny Fish, a local family medicine physician who helped found the local health care advocacy group H-PEACE, or Health Professionals for Equality and Community Empowerment, said she had been disappointed Mase hadn’t acted more swiftly.

Nurses and doctors have been trying to raise alarms within their hospitals and organizations about the growing pressure on staff to meet the demands of a growing population of people sick with COVID-19. Fish said her organization has heard from people saying at least one local hospital has been transferring patients with the virus out of the area because of staffing concerns.

What You Can And Can’t Do Under Sonoma County’s New COVID-19 Stay-Home Order

These activities are allowed to continue in some capacity:

Retail operations at 20% except for grocery stores, which will be at 35% capacity.

Schools that have received waivers will be allowed to continue operation.

Churches and other places of worship can hold outdoor services.

Restaurants allowed to offer takeout and delivery.

Gyms are outdoor / online.

Hotels, vacation rentals and other lodging only allowed to serve those traveling for essential work or for COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Playgrounds are open.

The following operations will be required to cease both indoor and outdoor services:

Hair salons and barbershops

Personal care services

Movie theaters (except for drive-in theaters)

Wineries, bars, breweries and distilleries (except for operations related to production, manufacturing, distribution and retail sales for off-site consumption)

Family entertainment centers

Museums, zoos and aquariums

Live audience sports

Amusement parks

The health order is available at SoCoEmergency.org. Residents can learn more about what activities are restricted by visiting covid19.ca.gov.

Information from Sonoma County

_____

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Fish said nurses are worried long work days will become longer.

“The reality is that the hospitals are already at capacity,” Fish said. “I’ve talked to nurses across hospital systems, and they are saying staffing is already tight and hard to find right now.”

Supervisor David Rabbitt said he believes Mase was making an essential yet imperfect choice at an especially difficult time of year for businesses to lose customers.

But his inclination to support her was reinforced by hearing from Mase that officials at two out of the county’s three major hospitals had told Mase they were concerned about what this upward trend would mean for their ability to care for the very sick.

“The last thing we want to do is have hospitals in this county have patients in the hallways and not being able to care for them, no matter what their illness, be it a stroke, a heart attack, COVID or anything in between,” Rabbitt said.

Just as there’s expected to be a new wave of viral devastation, so will there likely be a wave of new business closures, said Peter Rumble, the CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. The chamber has lost 104 member businesses, either due to their closing or financial hardship, he said.

Hotels that now face the prospect of not being able to house tourists and restaurants that can no longer seat diners outdoors are among those expected to take the brunt of the impact, he said.

“This is going to be something that clearly pushes more restaurants out of business,” he said.

Rumble said he understood the need to impose restrictions to avoid overwhelming hospitals. He also emphasized the mental health effects and financial hardship of suffering a business failure or losing a job — something he and others in the business community have been trying to make clear since March.

“We’re trying to convey the fact that this isn’t an abstract conversation, this is people’s lives,” Rumble said, “and that the impact of the virus is well beyond infection rates alone, that it extends to mental health, that it extends to the well-being of our children and people who are on unemployment rolls … This is a critical point that we’ve been trying to make since March that is frustratingly and irresponsibly absent from the conversation.”

Some of the new rules, such as 20% capacity limits for retailers, may impact businesses but are far better than outright prohibitions, Rumble said.

“It definitely makes it a little less convenient to shop, but it’s still possible,” he said.

The county’s decision was not unexpected by those in the hospitality industry, which has suffered over the past nine months between shelter-in-place orders and social distancing protocols.

Husband and wife Marco and Karin Diana, who own Ca’Bianca Italian restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, said the outdoor dining allowance, on top of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, has helped float them and their 18-member staff during the pandemic. Despite notable financial losses expected due to the new health order, they are trying to remain optimistic that their sacrifices will speed the return to normal business for their restaurant of 25 years. But they also want the federal government to step up with another round of assistance for their industry.

“First of all, it’s a health issue and health emergency, and if that is going to give us some positives in the future, I’d rather suffer now and help contribute to things getting better sooner,” said Marco Diana. “At the same time … the county and the state are very expensive, so the financial aspect goes together with the health factor and is a serious issue for people who pay expensive rent. So we need help from the top, and especially in this business.”

“We’re just hoping it’s for a limited time, and actually makes everything better, with vaccinations coming,” Karin Diana said.

The already battered hotel sector will experience another setback, as the order allows only for essential travel. The local industry has seen occupancy rates lower than last year. At the Gables Wine Country Inn, a boutique inn located in Santa Rosa, business had been off from 65% to 75% through this summer and fall, said co-owner Larry Willis.

“Normally, mid-November into December is pretty darn slow anyway. But this year has been exceptionally slow and probably down 95%,” Willis said.

The Gables Inn isn’t expecting any guests through the rest of the year, though one potential customer called from out of state for a possible visit. Willis mentioned that the party would have a 14-day self-quarantine after arriving, a requirement which he thought would dissuade them from coming.

The inn received a federal PPP loan that helped and the business should be able to make it through next year when the industry is expected to rebound by the third quarter. But he worries for others who may not have sufficient financial resources.

“It kind of cascades if you have a local business that goes under,” Willis said.

Gorin said the board has asked staff to present all options for how the county can help people withstand the challenges of the stay-home restrictions as COVID-19 infections rise, reaching their highest point since the pandemic began.

The county is now detecting nearly 25 cases per 100,000 residents daily, with a 14-day average of 343 cases per 100,000 residents. In addition, the county’s positivity rate is now up to 6.6 percent, and hospitalizations are now close to being the highest that they have ever been, Mase said.

Mase said the most alarming trends became clear over the last week.

They include data showing cases are on the rise among the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to the disease. Of the 162 people who have died, 143 were 65 or older.

With more people getting infected, people are more likely to know someone who has contracted the disease. Mase said she hopes that helps people understand the real threat to the well-being of the community.

While recognizing the pain another wave of shutdowns would cause Sonoma County residents, Gorin expressed optimism for the months ahead.

“We’re reeling from the economic impacts of what we’ve experienced throughout the year,” Gorin said. ”But I would say that with the vaccines being delivered next week and throughout the spring that will be the light at the end of our very dark tunnel.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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