A user’s guide to the state’s regional stay-at-home order

Diners along India Street in Little Italy on Friday, December 4.
After the state’s new stay-at-home order goes into effect, diners, like these seen along India Street in Little Italy on Friday, December 4, will be relegated to take-out.
(Sandy Huffaker/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Not long after the county had adjusted to the restrictions required under the purple tier, the state unveiled a new regional stay-at-home order, this one mandating more closures when intensive care capacity drops below 15 percent.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new order on Thursday, characterizing it as a necessary sacrifice to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infiltrated counties quickly and widely during the holiday season. Without immediate action, he said, local hospital systems may not be able to cope with a coming surge in cases and hospitalizations stemming from the Thanksgiving holiday.

In San Diego County, the numbers continue to shatter records with officials reporting 2,039 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. That surpasses the last daily record of 1,859 reported the day after Thanksgiving.

What will change under regional stay-at-home orders

The number of concurrent hospitalizations also increased from 753 on Wednesday to 791 on Thursday, and officials reported seven more residents lost to the coronavirus, bringing our region’s death toll to 1,047. Community-setting outbreaks have also skyrocketed — over the last week, the county has investigated 93.

While the latest order is very similar to the sweeping stay-at-home order put in place in March, there are some notable differences.

First, the latest order doesn’t go into effect all at once across the state. Rather, regions made up of individual counties will go into lockdown when their collective intensive care capacity falls below 15 percent.

San Diego County falls in an irregularly shaped version of Southern California. Our sister counties are Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura, as well as Inyo and Mono.

Currently, our region is sitting at a 20.6 percent ICU capacity, but state officials estimate we’ll fall below 15 percent sometime in early December.

When that happens, the county will have 24 hours to impose the latest set of restrictions — restrictions that would have to stay in place for at least 3 weeks, regardless of our ICU capacity.

Counties can move back to their place within the colored tier system when the state’s internal projections find the situation is not likely to worsen in the next month.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new order.

When does the stay-at-home order go into effect?

The order itself goes into effect on Saturday at 1 p.m., but restrictions won’t be applied in San Diego County until the collective ICU capacity of the Southern California region falls below 15 percent.

State officials said they would update each region’s ICU capacity on its website daily.

What closes once we cross the ICU threshold?

The following sectors must close:

  • Indoor and outdoor playgrounds
  • Indoor recreational facilities
  • Hair salons and barbershops
  • Personal care services
  • Museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters
  • Wineries, bars, breweries, and distilleries
  • Family entertainment centers
  • Cardrooms and satellite wagering
  • Live audience sports
  • Amusement parks

Is anything allowed to stay open?

Yes! The following sectors can remain open but with modifications that include mandatory masking and physical distancing:

Outdoor recreational facilities

Unlike previous stay-at-home orders, outdoor recreational facilities can remain open “to promote and protect the physical and mental well-being” of residents. That includes beaches, parks and outdoor gyms; however, none may sell food or drink for on-site consumption. Overnight stays at campgrounds are off the table, as well.

Retail and shopping centers

Retail spaces and shopping centers are allowed to operate at 20 percent capacity with entrance metering. No eating or drinking is allowed in stores, and businesses should set up special hours of operation for high-risk populations like seniors.

Hotels and lodging

The new stay-at-home order prohibits hotel use for tourism, leisure and other nonessential reasons. Hotel and other lodging locations can remain open, but only to support critical infrastructure sectors.


In another big hit to the food industry, restaurants are only allowed to be open for take-out, pick-up or delivery under the new order.


Office locations should arrange for employees to work remotely, except in the case of critical infrastructure sectors where remote working is impossible.

Places of worship and political expression

Only outdoor services or gatherings are allowed.

Professional sports and other entertainment productions

These entities are allowed to operate without live audiences. Strict testing protocols are highly encouraged.


Schools can continue to operate in their current modes. Those that have previously reopened for in-person instruction can remain open and schools can continue to bring kids back for in-person education under the state’s Elementary School Waiver process.

Child care and pre-K programs can also remain open.

Can I travel under the new order?

Under the new order, Californians are being told to cancel all nonessential travel plans.

Why did the state choose a regional approach?

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said the regional strategy is designed to ensure that there is somewhere to transfer overflow patients in counties where ICU beds fill up or staffing levels are not adequate to meet demand.

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

How do we get out from under the most recent order?

For the mandate to end, San Diego County’s region must have its forecasted ICU capacity for the next four weeks be 15 percent or greater. Each county within that region can then return to their existing reopening tier system determined by its coronavirus case and test positivity rates, to determine what industries can reopen.

Newsom said he would withhold funding set aside to address the pandemic from counties that refused to adopt the new measures or enforce them.

— Lyndsay Winkley is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune