Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly lifted mandatory stay-at-home orders across California on Monday as the surge of coronavirus cases that followed the holiday season begins to recede. The move lets activities like outdoor dining at restaurants and personal-service businesses such as hair salons reopen for the first time in more than a month.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Newsom said during a press briefing Monday. But the governor added, “Today we can lay claim to seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”
Counties will shift back into the state’s color-coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy reopening system, where restrictions will no longer be tied strictly to the number of available intensive care beds in hospitals.All the stories, all the timeUnlock The Chronicle for 99¢SUBSCRIBE
The state will assign tiers on Tuesday, with all Bay Area counties expected to remain in the state’s most restrictive purple tier.https://playlist.megaphone.fm/?e=SFO2195092765
“We are at a better place than we have been for a long time,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a separate briefing Monday. She cited declining rates of new cases and hospitalizations, as well as a virus reproduction rate that is below 1 — meaning that people with the virus are each spreading it to fewer than one person.
All Bay Area counties except for San Francisco said they will immediately reopen businesses eligible under the purple tier.More for you
San Francisco will wait until Thursday to allow some businesses to reopen, Breed said — a delay health officials said was needed in order for the city to adjust to the new health orders. The city will allow outdoor dining to resume with a maximum of six people and two households at a table.
Customers and employees at indoor or outdoor personal services must wear masks, and zoos and museums may open outdoors. Travelers from outside the Bay Area must still quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the city, and if they book a hotel in the Bay Area, they must stay for at least 10 days.
The city will also keep its 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew on all but essential activities.
“Let’s just give us more time and see how those numbers do,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s top health adviser. “We’ve beaten back three surges. Let’s prevent a fourth surge.”
Individual counties can impose stricter requirements as needed.
Newsom said he was lifting the state’s stay-at-home order because projections show that for at least four weeks, all five regions in the state will have at least 15% of intensive care beds available if needed. The Bay Area region is projected to be at 25% capacity on Feb. 21, just above what it was this weekend.
Two regions that have been stuck at 0% intensive care available capacity are projected to improve vastly by Feb. 21, state data showed Monday. Southern California is expected to reach 33.3%, and San Joaquin Valley should hit 22.3%.
Greater Sacramento, which exited the stay-at-home order on Jan. 12, is projected to reach 18.9%, and Northern California, which has maintained high enough ICU availability to avoid the stay-home hammer, will get to 27.3%.
“California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary.
“Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and frontline medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible, and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared,” he said.
Health officials across the region and state warned Monday that loosened restrictions should not be an excuse for the public to slide back into complacency with virus precautions.
“Under no circumstances should anyone view the state action today as a reason to let down their guard,” Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said. “We have made progress, but we need to continue what we are doing to keep our families and communities safe.”
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, said the state will be in a “chronic dance” until more residents are vaccinated. That dance means strengthening and loosening restrictions based on data — which has shown no link between virus spread and outdoor dining, she said.
Gandhi added that it was “almost punitive” to force those businesses to close without data to back up the decision.
“This is not saying, ‘Go wild,’” she said. “I think that continuing to message to the public that indoor gatherings are unsafe, and that Thanksgiving did make us have surges is a fair message. But none of the extra restrictions had data behind them — it was more that these were the things (the state) could control.
The decision to reopen comes more than six weeks after Newsom placed the Bay Area and nearly all of the state under stringent stay-at-home orders on Dec. 3, due to the explosive spread of the virus in late November and early December.
A statewide travel advisory discouraging people from traveling more than 120 miles from home or leaving the state remains in effect. People who must travel are advised to quarantine for at least 10 days on arrival.
“Avoiding travel reduces the risk of virus transmission, including by reducing the risk that new sources of infection and, potentially, new virus strains will be introduced to California,” says the advisory.
The return to the purple tier allows outdoor dining to restart and hair and nail salons to offer limited services indoors.
“Removing the stay-at-home order is not a light switch to going back to how things were a year ago,” said Newsom. “There are certain conditions that need to be met as it relates to those activities.”
With the lifting of the state’s regional stay-at-home order, Santa Clara County is letting restaurants resume outdoor dining and personal care services reopen as of Monday, along with professional, school and adult sports.
The county is keeping its travel quarantine: People arriving in the county from more than 150 miles away must quarantine for 10 days.
“Santa Clara County continues to experience very high rates of COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Sara Cody, county public health director. “Our collective actions to date have saved lives and helped protect our health care system from collapse.”
Several Sonoma County and Napa Valley wineries said they will resume outdoor wine tasting on Tuesday. Among the wineries opening under the relaxed orders are Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, Copain, Stonestreet and Freemark Abbey Winery. Tastings will be by appointment only, with staff conducting health screenings.
Business owners greeted the news with a mix of relief and uncertainty. Many have dealt with the financial and emotional strain of closing and reopening multiple times during the pandemic.
“I’m definitely going to reopen,” said Lennotch Taplett, owner of Details Barbershop & Grooming Lounge in San Francisco’s Union Square. “Most of the barbers who are renting chairs in my shop are planning to come back as well.”
The on-and-off reopenings have made Taplett revise his offerings. He plans to reopen his storefront this week or next and keep it open in the long run. But he said he will also offer haircuts and other services in a mobile unit, an investment that took months of permit approvals — but one he saw as imperative for his business’ survival.
“Although I’m excited to open again, it’s the uncertainty that’s concerning,” Taplett said.
Virus still a threat
Breed said Monday that she is excited the city is reopening outdoor dining and some other businesses, but she added that the virus remains a threat.
“We’re going to be living with this for some time, even as we see the numbers decline, even as we reopen,” she said. “This is not an open door for us to let our hair down and do whatever what we want to do. Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing” to quell the virus transmission.
The news was encouraging for many San Francisco business owners.
“We’re all really excited for this direction to be made. It’s the right direction at the right time,” said Jay Cheng, public policy director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “If we’re able to contain this virus, it makes sense for us to worry about the economy.”
Cheng cited President Biden’s new legislative package to tackle COVID-19, boost the economy and roll out vaccines as promising signs.
Yet he still said he believes the pandemic “is going to get worse before it gets better.”
“The announcement today is a turning point for the city, but the first step in a long journey,” he said.
Because coronavirus cases remain high across most of California, the state’s hospital surge order — which calls for medical centers to delay certain elective surgeries and prioritize the sickest patients — remains in place to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s director of public health. “COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”
This article was originally published on Newsom reopens California – most counties go to ‘purple’ tier. Here’s what it means