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