Governor to shutter businesses, limit activities as case rates surge

Vanessa Malibago, a registered nurse working in the ICU at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, checks on her patient
On Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 in Chula Vista, CA., Vanessa Malibago, a registered nurse working in the ICU at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, checks on her patient who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tighter set of shut-down orders linked to remaining community hospital bed availability


San Diego County will be inexorably tied to all of Southern California in a new “regional” stay-at-home order that mandates closure of many businesses when intensive care capacity drops to just 15 percent.

Under the order, all personal care service businesses, including salons and barber shops and wineries, would have to cease operations, and restaurants would have to stop outdoor dining. Indoor retail establishments would be able to remain open during the busy holiday season, but at no more than 20 percent capacity.

The state indicated during a news conference Thursday that the restrictions will take effect when a region’s collective intensive care capacity reaches 15 percent. It was not quite clear exactly what Southern California’s number is at the moment, or exactly when changes will take effect though the governor said such an eventuality is likely within days.

Newsom said the move is necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus which has picked up significantly during the holiday season. Making sacrifices now, he said, is critical to deal with a coming surge that will land on top of an existing surge.

“This is the most-challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic. This is the time to put aside your doubt. Lives are in the balance,” Newsom said.

But the latest numbers, shared in San Diego County’s daily COVID-19 update Wednesday, show that the region is likely to be put into a more-restrictive lockdown even though its intensive care remains significantly more favorable than Southern California’s.

At the moment, San Diego County comes nowhere close to meeting that threshold. As of Tuesday, 539 of 853 local intensive care beds were occupied, 38 percent of them by COVID-19 patients.

However, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new plan Thursday that lumps San Diego in with 10 other counties, many of which have significantly less bed availability than San Diego does. For example, Los Angeles County, according to a report from Health Services Los Angeles County, currently has 86 available staffed adult ICU beds compared to 315 in San Diego.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said the regional strategy is intentionally designed to make sure that neighboring counties have the capacity to help each other out.

“When capacity can’t be met within a specific county, we lean on neighboring counties and their health care delivery systems,” Ghaly said.

San Diego County’s overall hospital occupancy rate was 73.8 percent Tuesday, according to the county health department’s most-recent daily update. A total of 739 — or 16.6 percent — of beds in use were occupied by confirmed or suspected COVID patients.

While it remains far from taking over a majority of local bed space, and the county has required hospitals to keep about 20 percent of total capacity open in case of a sudden coronavirus surge, the disease has none-the-less seen its share of burden of local medical teams grow quickly.

One month ago, on Nov. 3, COVID patients made up only 6.8 percent of the total hospitalized patient population. That percentage has since more than doubled.

— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune