State and local health officials scrambled in recent days to respond to a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 cases. Beginning on Tuesday, San Mateo County will become one of 40 California counties to move into a more restrictive category of regulations.
“We are sounding the alarm,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Monday press release. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet – faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer.
“The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes,” he said.
Among other things, the state is now mandating masks in most situations out of the home. Even people who are outdoors and maintaining a distance from others must now have a face covering with them in case they are temporarily unable to maintain six feet from others.
San Mateo County is doing substantially better than statewide averages and much better than some hotspots across the country. Nevertheless, numbers are trending in the wrong direction, according to state data. Here, 2.1 percent of COVID-19 tests are proving positive, compared to a statewide average of 5.0 percent. There are 10.4 new cases per day per 100,000 people in San Mateo County while the metrics show 16.5 new cases per all 100,000 Californians.
The county, like San Francisco County, is moving into the red tier reserved for “substantial” spread. Adjacent counties, including Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, have tipped into the most restrictive, or purple, tier which means non-essential indoor businesses like restaurants must be closed.
Red tier restrictions include:
** Indoor retail stores and shopping malls must scale back to no more than 50 percent occupancy.
** Restaurants cannot operate with more than 25 percent capacity indoors.
** Gyms and fitness studios can only operate at 10 percent capacity indoors.
** Indoor pools and bowling alleys must close.
** Most live outdoor performances must cease.
“We are in the midst of a surge, and time is of the essence. Every day matters and every decision matters,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a prepared release.
Public health experts have said for months that the fall and winter months would be challenging as more people are forced indoors. There are also anecdotal reports that residents are suffering from fatigue and slowly letting down personal defenses like social distancing and face coverings.
Meanwhile, the holidays present a special challenge. Public health officials are urging people to forego the usual Thanksgiving gatherings this year and to limit travel.
While California hospitals have held up reasonably well under the strain, officials are concerned that, left unchecked, very ill patients could swamp the system. The state is putting 1,872 additional hospital beds at alternate care sites around California.