By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JOHN ANTCZAK Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders across the state Monday in response to improving coronavirus conditions, a surprising move hailed by beleaguered businesses. But some local health officials worried could undo the recent sharp drop in cases and hospitalizations.
“We’re seeing a flattening of the curve — everything that should be up is up, everything that should be down is down — case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations, ICUs,” Newsom told reporters.
The turnaround came about a month after hospitals crafted emergency plans for rationing care and as intensive care unit capacity in the vast Southern California region currently stands at 0%. State data models forecast that the region’s ICU capacity will rise to 33% — the highest of any of the state’s five regions — by Feb. 21.
The lifting of the stay-at-home order allows restaurants and churches to resume outdoor operations and hair and nail salons to reopen in many areas, though local officials could choose to impose stricter rules. The state is also lifting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Most California counties will return to the most restrictive purple tier of a four-tier, color-coded system for determining what businesses can be open.
Northern California was never under the stay-at-home order and the Greater Sacramento region exited two weeks ago. Now, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley agricultural region and Southern California, covering the majority of the state’s counties, may exit the order.
The state predicted the following regional ICU capacity in four weeks: 25% for the Bay Area; 27.3% in Greater Sacramento; 22.3% in the San Joaquin Valley and 18.9% in Northern California.
After the stay-at-home order was lifted, elected officials in many counties announced they would move to allow the reopening of outdoor restaurant dining and other services.
“We will be moving forward with some limited re-openings, including outdoor dining and personal services,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a tweet.
Heavily populated Orange County south of Los Angeles planned to lift some restrictions as well, said Jessica Good, a spokesperson for the county health agency.
In Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said outdoor dining will reopen Friday with capacity limits for restaurants.
Newsom imposed the stay-at-home order in December as coronavirus cases worsened.
Under the state-imposed system for closures, multi-county regions had to shut down most businesses and order people to stay home when ICU capacity dropped below 15%. The state makes its decisions based on four-week projections showing ICU capacity improving.
Officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts, though Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s health and human services agency, said the state would make more data public later Monday.
Last weekend, San Francisco Bay Area ICU capacity surged to 23% while the San Joaquin Valley’s ICU capacity increased to 1.3%.
Republicans said Newsom was relaxing the rules in response to political pressure and the threat of a recall. Republican organizers have until mid-March to gather 1.5 million signatures to force a recall vote against Newsom, who is halfway through his first term.
“This Governor’s decisions have never been based on science. Him re-opening our state is not an attempt to help working Californians, but rather an attempt to counter the Recall Movement. It’s sad and pathetic,” California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson tweeted.
Jeff Smith, the Santa Clara County executive, said his county had no plans to impose stricter rules but criticized the state’s decision.
“Essentially it’s a decision being made politically that puts people’s lives at risk, especially in Southern California,” he told The Mercury News.
The criticism wasn’t limited to Newsom’s partisan political opponents.
Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale said state lawmakers have been kept out of the loop on changing rules that Newsom’s administration has used to impose COVID-19 restrictions.
“If you think state legislators were blindsided by, and confused about, the shifting & confusing public health directives, you’d be correct,” she tweeted. “If you think we have been quiet about it in Sacramento, you’d be wrong.”
Newsom said the appropriate people had been notified in advance and called the suggestion that he was lifting the order due to political pressure “nonsense.”
The state’s purple public health safety tier, which most counties will now be in, allows for outdoor dining, the openings of hair and nail salons and outdoor church services. Bars that only serve beverages cannot be open.
The county-by-county tier system uses various metrics to determine the risk of community transmission and applies color codes — purple, red, orange or yellow — which correspond to transmission risk levels.
As of last weekend, California has had more than 3.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 36,790 deaths, according to the state’s public health website.
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