After Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that a new shelter-in-place order would go into effect for regions whose ICU capacity falls below 15 percent, five Bay Area counties decided to shut down early. San Mateo County was not among the group, opting instead to wait for official state orders to further restrict activities in the county.

For the time being, San Mateo County will continue adhering to restrictions under the “purple tier,” which closes most indoor operations and prohibits all gatherings from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Nonessential offices are closed and retail is reduced to limited capacity.

County Health Officer Scott Morrow issued a new statement Monday explaining his decision to forgo additional restrictions. In the statement, he wrote that he has yet to see concrete evidence that additional closures will stop further spread of the virus, instead reiterating the importance of individual actions like mask wearing and avoiding gatherings.

He worries that further tightening restrictions, as some other Bay Area counties have done, will “result in more job loss, more hunger, more despair and desperation... and more death from causes other than COVID,” and sees ICU capacity as a flawed metric. Morrow also criticized the state order as “rife with inexplicable inconsistencies of logic,” allowing professional sports and elective surgeries to continue while limiting businesses and reducing grocery store capacity.

“... What we have before us is a symbolic gesture, it appears to be style over substance, without any hint of enforcement, and I simply don’t believe it will do much good,” Morrow wrote.

Should the Bay Area’s ICU capacity fall below 15 percent, Newsom’s new order would require a more restrictive three-week shutdown, closing nonessential businesses like bars, hair salons and other personal services. Newsom said four of the five regions could move below the 15 percent threshold in the next few days. He projected the Bay Area region would see additional restrictions by mid-December.

“The Bay Area may have a few extra days,” Newsom said at a press briefing last week. “Our current projections suggest mid- to late-December.”

If instituted, the new shelter-in-place order would allow schools that have opened through the waiver system to remain open as well as critical infrastructure, but will restrict all nonessential travel, reduce all retail, including grocery stores, to 20 percent capacity and close restaurants to just takeout and delivery.

Just after Newsom’s announcement last week, five Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Santa Clara, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda — opted not to wait for the trigger from the state, moving forward this week with shutdowns that mirror the state’s and will last through Jan. 4.

The new restrictions come as California and the nation are seeing worrying spikes in case numbers, with over a million cases and nearly 20,000 deaths due to the virus in the state to date. San Mateo County is reporting 16.3 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, according to state data.

County Manager Mike Callagy said at last week’s press briefing that the ICU capacity in the county remains strong, but dramatic increases in hospitalizations are a cause for concern. As of Monday, the county was reporting 84 residents hospitalized with COVID-19, up from just 30 two weeks ago, with 21 available ICU beds.

Callagy said the county has been planning for a surge in hospitalizations, with more than 100 surge beds and the mobile field hospital at San Mateo Events Center available.

“But we don't want to get there,” Callagy said. “We don't want to use those.”

Across the state, Newsom said ventilator capacity is still strong, with nearly 15,000 in the state inventory. San Mateo County is reporting 81 ventilators still available county-wide.

“We've never been this abundant in the availability of vent resources,” Newsom said.

Newsom said that these numbers don’t yet reflect rising cases due to the Thanksgiving holiday. He advised residents to continue to avoid gatherings, wear masks and move recreation activities outdoors as much as possible. He expects this closure to be the last, calling it the “third wave” of the pandemic, with the first vaccines set to arrive in the state Dec. 12-15.

“We need to meet this moment head-on and do everything we can to stem the tide and bend the curve,” Newsom said.

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