Californians are fatigued, some are resentful and others are simply confused as the state approaches nine full months of business and activity restrictions.
Fatigue and resentment will likely grow even deeper near the capital, where health officials announced Wednesday that a stay-at-home shutdown would begin the following day because the total intensive care unit capacity across the 13-county Greater Sacramento region dropped below 15%.
Restrictions first took effect in March in the form of a full-blown stay-at-home order, an unprecedented effort to clamp down on spread of the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 protocols have undergone frequent adjustments since then, whipsawing residents and business owners with fluctuating sets of rules or outright closures.
Now, a majority of the state by population is back under a new region-based stay-at-home order due to diminishing capacity of staffed intensive care unit beds throughout the state.
Fatigued or not, health officials say residents cannot afford to keep letting their guard down about mask use, social distancing or avoiding multi-household gatherings as the nation’s most populous state fights its worst surge yet of the pandemic.
The past six days brought the six highest daily case loads of the health crisis: more than 22,000 were reported each of Friday through Wednesday, with a record-high 30,851 recorded Wednesday, according to the California Department of Public Health. The state flew past 1.4 million all-time cases less than a month after hitting the million mark.
Test positivity rate (8.8% for the past two weeks), the number of hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 (11,012) and the number of those patients in intensive care units (2,506) were all at record highs on Wednesday. All of those metrics have continued steep climbs since the start of November or slightly earlier, CDPH data show.
Deaths, which surpassed the 20,000 milestone on Tuesday, have come at a clip of 98 per day over the past two weeks, a pace that has doubled in less than three weeks, state data show. California reported 196 new virus fatalities Wednesday.
The crisis is still accelerating as the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday continues to unfurl. Health officials are also expressing concern that the slew of winter holidays approaching, starting this week with Hanukkah and lasting through New Year’s Day, could amplify the already sky-high infection and hospitalization totals, if large amounts of people continue to gather for those occasions.
What is the timeline for the current restrictions?
A flurry of emergency actions have come in response to the deteriorating situation in recent weeks.
On Nov. 16, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state was pulling the “emergency brake,” plunging a majority of counties into the strict purple tier wherein restaurants, churches, gyms, movie theaters and more must cease indoor operations.
Three days later, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced a one-month 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in those purple-tier counties. That’s set to end Dec. 21 if it isn’t extended.
Last week, with the hospital situation growing increasingly grim and ICUs statewide projected to run out of staffed beds, Newsom announced a new regional stay-at-home order on top of the existing restrictions, also coming atop the closures and restrictions already in effect.
The order split the state into five regions — Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, Southern California and Northern California. Counties in each region are subject to the tightest restrictions since March, including bans on outdoor restaurant dining and capacity limits for retail and grocery stores, taking effect one day after that region falls below 15% available ICU capacity.
Once a region falls below 15%, it must remain in the stay-at-home order for at least three weeks. If capacity is back above 15% at that point, the state will reassess the situation.
The hospital crisis is currently most critical in the 12-county San Joaquin Valley, where state health officials last reported a total remaining ICU capacity of just 4.2%.
“All the things you’re hearing about how impacted our hospitals are, about how dire this situation with our ICUs is, it’s absolutely true,” Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra told reporters Tuesday, as that county effectively hit zero available ICU beds.
Southern California has also entered the tight regional shutdown and on Wednesday had 9% capacity remaining.
Greater Sacramento — made up of Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties — had a reported 14.3% of intensive care capacity left, a rate that dropped nearly 5% from Tuesday to Wednesday.
“Our hope is this will be the last time we will be asking people to sacrifice,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye told the Board of Supervisors in a Tuesday meeting, referencing the fact that limited supplies of vaccine could be on the way as early as this weekend if federal emergency use authorization is granted to the Pfizer vaccine.
The Bay Area, where about half of the region’s counties voluntarily entered tighter restrictions ahead of the state’s order taking effect, fell from about 25% capacity Tuesday to 21% on Wednesday. Northern California’s ICU availability rose from 25% to 27%.
State data update puts 99.9% of Californians in purple tier
Though the ICU-tied stay-at-home order supersedes it in the regions in which it has taken effect, the color-coded reopening framework is still being updated on at least a weekly basis.
CDPH on Tuesday demoted some of the last well-populated counties that had been in the red tier — Amador and Marin — down into the purple tier.
With that, just 0.1% of the state’s residents — about 40,000 people — are in looser levels of restrictions in four sparse counties: Alpine, Inyo, Mariposa and Sierra.
CDPH also on Tuesday released county-by-county data for test positivity rates and new cases per 100,000 for the week ending Nov. 28, the state’s first official glimpse into numbers from the week of Thanksgiving.
The numbers remain exceptionally poor across the board, including the Sacramento region.
Eight of the 13 Greater Sacramento counties — Sutter, Yuba, Colusa, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sacramento and Nevada — reported test positivity rates of 10% or higher. That’s double the target rate of 5% recommended by the World Health Organization. It’s also 2% higher than the purple tier cutoff of 8%, and higher than the statewide average of 8.4% reported for the week of Thanksgiving.
In particular, the Yuba-Sutter bi-county area is facing alarming infection rates. Sutter County had a positivity rate of 21% and Yuba’s was nearly 18%, second- and fourth-worst, respectively, among California’s 58 counties.
Sutter’s case rate amounted to 71 new daily infections per 100,000, worst in the state and a full 10 times higher than the purple-tier cutoff. Yuba’s rate was 46 per 100,000. Most of the rest of the region ranged from 20 to 40 per 100,000.
$1,000 payments for some Sacramento County residents
Starting last month, a coalition of local nonprofits and community advocacy groups have been providing families with one-time stipends of $1,000 to $3,000, a direct-payment financial assistance program designed to aid some of the residents who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
Residents demonstrating high need are selected after submitting an application. The stipends are funded by federal CARES act money in the order of $4 million.
“The need is great, and it’s kind of overwhelming and sad because you can’t at this point help everyone,” said Kula Koenig, director of community impact at United Way California Capital Region, one of the involved organizations.
Health officials withdraw proposal to fine violating businesses
Sacramento County health leaders on Tuesday withdrew their proposal for an urgency ordinance that would have let enforcement officials fine businesses up to $10,000, and individuals up to $500, for violating COVID-19 health orders.
County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson pulled back the idea following opposition from the community and from the county Board of Supervisors, though he signaled he may return with a revised plan.
“I don’t think it is a good direction,” Supervisor Sue Frost said. “I think education is the best way to approach.”
The ordinance would have needed a four-fifths supermajority.
The board met Tuesday, and a group of about 30 protesters disrupted that meeting, demanding to be let inside.
Sacramento sheriff recovers
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Wednesday on Facebook that he has cleared his isolation period and is back at work, one week after his department announced he tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 1.
Jones wrote that his symptoms were mild “like a cold with a low fever,” and he said his family members tested negative.
The Sheriff’s Office said in a previous statement that his symptoms started Nov. 27, one day after Thanksgiving.
Death toll in six-county Sacramento area passes 850
The six counties that make up the bulk of the Greater Sacramento region by population — Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba — have combined for more than 69,000 confirmed cases and at least 856 COVID-19 deaths.
More than 650 were hospitalized with the disease across those six counties, including at least 143 in ICUs, as of Wednesday.
Sacramento County has reported a total of 45,336 infections and 646 COVID-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The county blew past another daily record with 1,262 new cases reported Tuesday, breaking the mark of a little over 1,100 set one week earlier. Wednesday brought 648 more.
In terms of episode date, which is the earliest of either onset of symptoms or the positive test specimen being collected, Nov. 30 through Dec. 3 marked the county’s four largest case loads of the pandemic by far, at 986, 981, 927 and 884, respectively. The previous high had been 675 infections connected to Nov. 23, county data show.
Local health officials have now confirmed at least 109 virus deaths among Sacramento County residents for November — seven short of September for second-deadliest month of the pandemic, but death confirmations for last month still coming in as those determinations are made official.
Four county residents died of the virus on Thanksgiving, and 31 died in the five days leading up to the holiday, county data show. Seven deaths have already been confirmed for the first four days of December.
Countywide, 398 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, yet another new record, with 85 of them in ICUs, state data show.
The city of Sacramento has reached 365 dead and over 25,000 infected. The latter equates to one in every 20 capital city residents having tested positive for the virus since the start of the health crisis.
Yolo County has reported a total of 5,639 infections and 89 deaths, with five fatalities added Wednesday. The county reported 93 new cases Wednesday following 59 Tuesday and 125 Monday.
Yolo had a record-high 26 hospitalized with the virus, including 11 in intensive care as of Wednesday.
Placer County health officials have reported a total of 8,173 infections and 81 deaths, updated Tuesday to add 194 cases.
The latest county data indicates a weekly positivity rate of 10.6%, compared to 3.9% one month earlier, reflecting an increase in true spread for the virus even as testing capacity sees a boost.
State data as of Wednesday showed 158 people were in Placer hospitals with COVID-19, a record, including 23 in ICUs.
El Dorado County has reported a total of 3,356 positive test results and eight deaths as of Tuesday. The county’s case count was at 2,882 a day prior, but officials wrote in Monday’s update to its health dashboard that it had an outstanding backlog from the weekend.
Health officials say 24 people are hospitalized and 13 in ICUs with the virus in El Dorado, both all-time highs.
In Sutter County, at least 4,435 people have been infected and 26 have died. Local health officials confirmed a record-high 204 cases Tuesday as well as one fatality, following 319 cases and three fatalities for the stretch of Saturday through Monday.
Neighboring Yuba County has reported 2,650 infections, adding 78 on Tuesday following 169 for Monday plus the weekend. Yuba’s reported death toll recently fell from 11 to 10. This happens occasionally in counties due to a data correction, most frequently involving a decedent’s official place of residence being reclassified into a different county.
The bi-county health office dashboard showed 36 Sutter residents and 13 Yuba residents hospitalized as of Tuesday, though not all of them are being treated at Adventist-Rideout in Yuba County.
Rideout as of Wednesday’s state data update had 45 coronavirus patients, including a record-setting 11 in intensive care.
The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, Sophia Bollag, Michael Finch II, Dale Kasler, Lara Korte and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks; and Fresno Bee reporter Tim Sheehan contributed to this story. Listen to our daily briefing: