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Bay Area tightens COVID-19 restrictions; Santa Clara County orders travel quarantine

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly worsens across California, San Francisco and San Mateo counties on Saturday were moved into the state’s most restrictive tier, which forces the closure of indoor gyms and movie theaters.

At the same time, Santa Clara County issued its own tightened COVID-19 rules that in some ways are stricter than the ones issued by Los Angeles County on Friday. Under Santa Clara County‘s directive, people must quarantine for 14 days upon return from travel of more than 150 miles, hotels will be open for only essential travel or isolation and quarantine, and nonessential retail establishments will be limited to 10% of capacity indoors, down from the current cap of 25%.

The backward steps come as hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have tripled in the last month, coming perilously close to exceeding their summer peak.

According to data released Saturday by the state Department of Public Health, on Friday there were 6,972 people infected with the coronavirus in hospitals statewide. On Oct. 25, that number was 2,254. The all-time high for hospitalizations is 7,170, set July 22.

In all, more than 1.18 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 19,000 have died in California.

San Francisco had been able to avoid the state’s most restrictive “purple” tier, but the rate of new coronavirus cases in the Bay Area has continued to explode up in recent days. In just the last six weeks, weekly coronavirus cases have quadrupled, from about 200 a week in mid-October to about 900 a week now,

A Times analysis published Friday found that most California counties are now suffering their worst daily new coronavirus case rates of the pandemic, surpassing even the summer surge that forced officials to roll back the state’s first reopening.

The state Department of Public Health announced Saturday that six counties had fallen into the most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening framework: San Francisco, San Mateo, Plumas, Lake, Modoc and Calaveras counties. Three counties fell into the red tier: Mariposa, Inyo and Alpine.

The changes mean that 51 of California’s 58 counties are now in the purple tier, accounting for 99% of the state’s population, or 38.8 million people out of California’s 39.1 million residents. Purple tier counties are required to shut indoor operations of restaurants, gyms and houses of worship.

Counties in the purple tier are subject to the state’s limited overnight stay-at-home order, which prohibits all gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and all nonessential activities outside the home during those hours, with exceptions such as to get groceries, take walks with members of your household, pick up takeout food and work in essential industries such as meal preparation.

The only counties not in the purple tier are Marin, Amador, Plumas, Inyo, Mariposa, Mono and Alpine, which are in the red, or second-most restrictive tier, and Sierra, which is the orange tier, the third-most restrictive tier.

San Francisco had already ordered the shutdown of indoor restaurant dining rooms starting Nov. 14. Beginning Sunday at noon, indoor operations of houses of worship, movie theaters, gyms, museums, aquariums and zoos will be forbidden. Outdoor carousels and Ferris wheels must close, and nonessential retail will be capped at 25% of capacity.

Schools already open for instruction may continue to offer indoor learning, and elementary schools that have not yet opened may continue applying for waivers to reopen for indoor operations, San Francisco officials said. Middle and high schools that haven’t opened may not open for indoor instruction but may apply to provide outdoor-only learning, officials said.

San Mateo County will order the suspension of indoor dining effective Sunday after officials there reported an 85% spike in coronavirus cases from October to November.

“We have not seen numbers like this in quite a while and we really need to reverse this incredibly troubling trend,” County Manager Mike Callagy said in a statement. “What’s important to remember is that we can reverse the trend as long as we follow common-sense health and safety practices.”

Santa Clara County, the home of Silicon Valley, on Saturday issued its own mandatory directive on travel that “strongly discourages leisure and nonessential travel, and requires persons entering the county to quarantine for 14 days upon return from travel of more than 150 miles.” Those new directives will take effect on Monday and last until at least Dec. 21.

“I am gravely concerned by the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” said Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement.

“The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in our county has doubled in just the past couple of weeks, and we are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continue,” Cody said. “During this critical time of surging COVID-19 transmission in our community, I urge every resident to exercise caution and to the greatest extent possible, minimize contact with anyone outside of your immediate household.”

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Santa Clara County have tripled in the last month and now exceed the record set in the summertime. Officials say they are worried about hospitals reaching capacity.

Santa Clara County issued new orders Saturday that will even further limit indoor nonessential retail establishments to 10% of capacity, a far stricter limit than the one required under the state’s purple tier, which limits those venues to at 25% of capacity.

Essential retail in Santa Clara County, like grocery stores and pharmacies, will be capped at 25% of capacity, also stricter than the 50% that the state allows.

Among the other changes in Santa Clara County, according to a statement:

• All facilities open to the public must establish a “metering system” to ensure that capacity limits are not exceeded, such as by a worker at the entrance tracking people inside;
• Outdoor gatherings for religious services and political demonstrations are now capped to a maximum of 100 people;
• All recreational activities that involve physical contact or close proximity to people outside of one’s household are prohibited.
• Cardrooms are closed.
• Hotels and other lodging facilities will be open only for essential travel and for use to facilitate isolation or quarantine.

Los Angeles County on Friday also announced stricter coronavirus rules. Starting Monday, essential retail stores are to be limited to 35% of capacity, down from the current cap of 50%.

Nonessential retail stores, malls, libraries and personal care establishments such as hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, piercing shops, tanning services and massage therapy are to be limited to 20% of capacity; currently, they can operate at 25% of capacity.

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