The California Department of Public Health ended regional stay-at-home orders on Monday morning, effective immediately for all regions statewide, including the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, health officials announced on Jan. 25.
The end of California's regional orders will return the state to the previous county-by-county colored tiered system under its Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The color-coded tiers indicate which activities and businesses can open based on local case rates and test positivity, with yellow being the most lax tier and purple the most restrictive.
The regional stay-at-home orders were based on the intensive-care unit capacity within five sections across California made up of multiple counties. A drop to below 15% of the available ICU beds in a region triggered the stay-at-home order. Each regional order urged Californians to stay home except for essential activities, which helped lower disease transmission levels and reduced the burden on the hospital system.
ICU capacity projections for all regions over the next four weeks are above 15%, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order. The Sacramento region exited the order on Jan. 12 and the Northern California region, such as Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake and Lassen counties, never entered the order.
The majority of state counties are still in the strictest tier, also known as the purple tier. Individual counties could choose to impose stricter rules, state officials noted.
Across the state, the number of available ICU beds is increasing into the double digits despite fears by health officials of a precipitous spike in COVID-19 cases after the winter holidays. Officials imposed the regional order to prevent the spike in cases from overwhelming the health care system. The disastrous increase did not appear to take shape as they had feared.
"Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives. Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. 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," Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and state public health officer, said in a statement.
All counties in the state, including in the Bay Area, are in the purple tier except for Mariposa, Alpine, Sierra and Trinity counties, according to a state tier map. Under the purple tier, services, such as outdoor dining and personal services, may resume immediately with required modifications, but they are subject to any additional restrictions required by local jurisdictions.
"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. Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line 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," Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, said in the statement.
Because case rates remain high across most of California, the state's Hospital Surge Order remains in place to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. The partial lockdown or Limited Stay at Home Order, which limits nonessential activities between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., also expires Monday.
While there are positive signs that the virus is spreading at a slower rate across the state, it is still spreading, state officials said.
"It is still critical that Californians continue to wear masks when they leave their homes, maintain physical distance of at least six feet, wash their hands frequently, avoid gatherings and mixing with other households, follow all state and local health department guidance and get the vaccine when it's their turn," they said in a press release.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the state will move to an age-based prioritization after health workers, first responders, essential workers and people ages 65 and older have been vaccinated. Newsom noted that people ages 65 and older make up 75% of the deaths from COVID-19. He did not say what the prioritization system would look like. Ghaly is scheduled to speak more about the vaccination plans on Tuesday, Newsom said.
California, in collaboration with local health departments and health care facilities statewide, took multiple actions to support hospitals and slow the surge in cases and hospitalizations in addition to implementing regional stay-at-home orders, according to the release. Here is a list of those actions:
• Added more than 4,100 medical professionals, many from out of state, to facilities across California to ease the burden on front-line health care workers.
• Provided personal protective equipment and ventilators and help with oxygen supply.
• Helped hospitals expand their capacity by opening 16 alternate-care sites for recovering COVID-19 patients.
• Implemented a statewide order to make it easier to transfer patients from overcrowded hospitals to those with more space and staff.
• Prioritized vaccines to health care workers so that fewer workers fall ill to the virus to keep staffing levels more stable.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.