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Southern California Stay-at-Home Order Extended As COVID Cases Flood Hospitals

Huntington Hospital treating nearly 200 coronavirus patients

Published on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 | 1:47 pm

As expected, a regional stay-at-home order in effect across Southern California due to surging COVID-19 hospitalizations was formally extended today, continuing a ban on all gatherings of people from different households and in-person dining and setting strict capacity limits at many businesses.

The order will remain in effect until 15 percent of Southern California’s intensive care units are available.    

Locally, Huntington Hospital has been forced to flex its ICU capacity. As of Tuesday, 32 of the hospital’s 198 COVID patients were in the ICU.

The state’s regional order, which covers an 11-county area of Southern California, took effect at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 6 and was set to expire Monday.

But with the region’s intensive-care unit capacity at hospitals still effectively listed at 0%, Gov. Gavin Newsom had said the order was all but certain to be extended. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly made it official Tuesday, saying incoming COVID-19 patients are expected to continue exceeding hospital intensive care unit capacity in the region over the next four weeks.

With the Southern California region’s current ICU capacity still listed at 0% — and health officials anticipating case numbers and hospitalizations to rise throughout January based on gatherings that likely occurred during Christmas and will again during New Year’s Eve despite warnings — the region is expected to remain under the order for weeks to come.

In anticipation of the state’s action, Los Angeles County on Sunday night extended its local stay-at-home order, which essentially mirrors the state’s restrictions.

Newsom noted Monday that COVID-19 hospital admissions have begun to plateau across much of the state — except in Southern California, with Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties continuing to be the hardest hit.

L.A. County has rapidly become the epicenter of the pandemic in California, with the state reporting more than 7,400 COVID-19 patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Tuesday, including nearly 1,500 in intensive care unit beds. Newsom said 96% of Los Angeles County hospitals diverted ambulances to other facilities at some point over the weekend due to overcrowding in emergency rooms — up from a normal average of 33% of hospitals going on diversion.

It was not known if Huntington Hospital had diverted patients. A hospital official did not respond to an email on Monday regarding the topic.

According to Newsom, county hospitals on average spent 16 hours on diversion over the weekend, unable to find space for emergency patients.

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 order was triggered in each area when the region’s ICU bed availability dropped below 15%. In some counties, the official ICU bed availability is 0%. That percentage does not mean that there aren’t any ICU beds available, since the state adjusts the number based on the ratio of COVID-19 patients being housed in the units.

Newsom again had harsh words for counties and county officials who continue to “thumb your nose” at health orders. He singled out Riverside County, where Sheriff Chad Bianco has publicly criticized Newsom and said his agency would not be “blackmailed” into becoming an enforcement arm of state health officials.

Newsom has said repeatedly that counties that don’t adhere to health restrictions would lose state funding.

“We’re in the midst of a pandemic,” Newsom said. “I don’t know what more evidence you need, particularly, as highlighted, Riverside County is experiencing what they’re experiencing in ICUs and hospitals and lives lost. I mean, what more evidence do you need that trying to enforce good behavior will actually save lives? It’s a noble and right thing to do.

“To dismiss as many have in the past and some of the same folks … some still holding onto this as a hoax or face coverings don’t matter. … they’re not helping. They’re not advancing that cause, and so we will be assertive as we have been, we will be aggressive, as we have been.”

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