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New restrictions set for Sunday as COVID-19 hospitalizations soar

REGION — San Diego County and the rest of Southern California will fall under sweeping new health restrictions tonight due to the rapidly increasing number of hospitalizations from the coronavirus, state officials said just as the county saw a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases.

A state-mandated “regional stay-at-home” order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, triggered when intensive-care unit bed availability remained below 15% after Saturday’s daily update, according to the California Department of Public Health. The 11-county Southern California region’s available ICU capacity was 12.5% Saturday, a decrease from 13.1% the day before. San Diego County had 20.9% of its ICU beds available as of Friday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the Southern California region could meet that trigger within days. The Southern California region consists of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The stay-at-home order will be in place for three weeks and will bar gatherings of people from different households. Regions will be eligible to exit from the order on Dec. 28 if ICU capacity projections for the following month are above or equal to 15%.

San Diego County reported 2,287 news cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths Saturday, the highest one-day total of new cases yet. That brings the total number of cases to 90,468 and 1,055 total deaths.

County Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox said the three-week stay-at-home order was tough to take.

“There’s no way around it,” Cox said during a special Saturday briefing. “It stinks.”

But in recent weeks, the county has experienced a rise in the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalization rates and the use of ICU beds, Cox said.

“We know the timing could not be worse,” because of the holidays, Cox said. “But we know better days are ahead,” he added, referring to the arrival of vaccines.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said county residents are facing a tough situation.

“But COVID-19 is a tough virus,” Fletcher said. “This is the toughest fight we’ve had to face during the pandemic. But hope is on the horizon with a vaccination, but it’s not here now.”

Fletcher said the county faced an unprecedented situation.

“We don’t have a choice,” Fletcher said. “It is a deadly pandemic that is ravaging our county.”

San Diego’s outgoing Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted, “Our small businesses aren’t being treated fairly. Restaurants made good faith efforts to comply with COVID rules. Now the rules are changing once again. If the Governor shuts restaurants down, it’s only right the state compensates them for the costs incurred moving outdoors.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond attacked Newsom’s approach.

“This `regional’ approach is absurd,” Desmond said in a statement. “We are being lumped into the `Southern California’ region with jurisdictions as far as San Luis Obispo and Mono County. And, San Diego County is at 23% capacity, well above the 15% requirement.

“If you count our available overflow ICU beds then we are at 36% capacity. I was hopeful when the governor announced he was focusing on ICU and hospital capacity, however, he’s missed the mark, once again. The governor and state did not consult with San Diego County and unilaterally implemented a regional approach that unfairly puts people out of work. Again, San Diego did not have an opportunity to review and provide input and did not agree to this system.”

Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities will be forced to close:
— indoor and outdoor playgrounds;
— 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 will be allowed to remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity. Restaurants will be restricted to takeout and delivery service only.

Hotels would be 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.

Some of those restrictions are already in effect in select counties.

California has grouped its counties into five regions: The Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento Region, Northern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The San Joaquin Valley will also enter the new shutdown protocol Sunday night, as its ICU capacity dropped to 8.6% on Saturday.

The state’s full stay-at-home order can be read here.