The almighty Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) dictated from on high that if Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity in any of California’s five regions falls below 15 percent, he will shut down indoor church services, travel, playgrounds, movie theaters, wineries, and more, and even force hotels and lodging establishments to cancel out-of-state reservations. Any establishment lucky enough to stay open will face a 100 percent mask mandate. This extreme stay-at-home order will remain in place for at least three weeks until ICU capacity is projected to increase above 15 percent.
Citing increasing cases and deaths, Newsom said, “We’re pulling that emergency brake.”
The order will take effect at 12:59 p.m. on Saturday. After that time, if any one of California’s five regions falls below the 15 percent ICU threshold, it will have 24 hours to implement the draconian Stay at Home Order. Newsom’s office had previously divided California up into five regions: Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.
“We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California’s hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday. “By invoking a Stay at Home Order for regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent, we can flatten the curve as we’ve done before and reduce stress on our health care system.”
Newsom, who infamously attended an indoor dinner party on November 6 at the upscale restaurant The French Laundry with lobbyists and California Medical Association executives without a mask in sight, assured Californians, “I’m clear-eyed that this is hard on all of us — especially our small businesses who are struggling to get by. That’s why we leaned in to help our small business owners with new grants and tax relief to help us get through this month.”
Yet he assured Golden State residents, “If we stay home as much as possible, and wear masks when we have to go to the doctor, shop for groceries or go for a hike, California can come out of this in a way that saves lives and puts us on a path toward economic recovery.”
That sounds rather draconian, but the specifics are even worse.
The Regional Stay at Home Order “instructs Californians to stay at home as much as possible to limit the mixing with other households that can lead to COVID-19 spread. It allows access to (including travel for) critical services and allows outdoor activities to preserve Californians’ physical and mental health. This limited closure will help stop the surge and prevent overwhelming regional ICU capacity.”
Under the order, “all operations in the following sectors must be closed:”
- Indoor and Outdoor Playgrounds
- Indoor Recreational Facilities
- Hair Salons and Barbershops
- Personal Care Services
- Museums, Zoos, and Aquariums
- Movie Theaters
- Bars, Breweries and Distilleries
- Family Entertainment Centers
- Cardrooms and Satellite Wagering
- Limited Services
- Live Audience Sports
- Amusement Parks
Some establishments will be allowed to remain open with additional modifications, “100 percent masking,” and physical distancing.” Outdoor recreation cannot allow any food, drink, or alcohol sales, and overnight stays at campgrounds will be banned. Retail stores may open at 20 percent capacity with no eating or drinking and special hours for seniors and those with weak immune systems. Restaurants may only allow pick-up or take-out. Offices must be remote except in rare cases. Places of worship may “allow outdoor services only.”
Hotels and lodging may remain open “for critical infrastructure support only.” In fact, the order states that “no hotel or lodging entity in California shall accept or honor out of state reservations for non-essential travel, unless the reservation is for at least the minimum time period required for quarantine and the persons identified in the reservation will quarantine in the hotel or lodging entity until after that time period has expired” (emphasis added).
Only a few aspects of life may continue, but with “100 percent masking and physical distancing,” such as “critical infrastructure,” non-urgent medical and dental care, and child care. Guidance on schools would not change.
The lockdown would end when the California Department of Public Health’s “four-week projections of the Region’s total available adult ICU bed capacity is greater than or equal to 15%.” The department will update projections twice a week.
If any region enters this lockdown phase in the days shortly after Saturday, it seems extremely likely the lockdown would last until Christmas Day.
Lockdown measures like this come with scores of unintended consequences, including increased depression, suicide, and various forms of lashing out. Especially given Newsom’s recent maskless indoor dinner at a swanky restaurant and the many double standards politicians like Newsom have employed when it comes to COVID-19 lockdowns, it seems likely hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Californians will simply refuse to abide by the order, especially with Christmas around the corner.
ICU capacity is a far better metric than case numbers for the necessity of lockdown measures, but it does not necessarily justify these drastic measures. Furthermore, Newsom announced on Thursday that California will receive 327,000 doses of the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by mid-December, when some regions may be under harsh lockdowns. Vaccines do not immediately end a pandemic, but it does seem noteworthy that California may embark on its harshest lockdown even as a vaccine finally arrives.
Even if the lockdown were excellent public policy, it would provoke some measure of resistance given Newsom’s hypocrisy.
For those Californians unlucky enough not to merit an invitation to the next dinner at The French Laundry, Newsom included this comforting line: “Californians are also encouraged to keep connected with loved ones virtually.”
I’ll translate: “Merry Christmas! Yours truly, The Grinch.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.