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Coronavirus Surge Prompts California To Implement Strict Measures

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The situation in California is now so serious most of the state is under a stay-at-home order. Thirty-three million people in a state of 40 million are impacted by the strictest measures taken since March. And this is because hospitals are filling up very quickly with coronavirus patients. Nicole Nixon with CapRadio joins us this morning from Sacramento. Nicole, good morning.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So explain to us how this stay-at-home order is working, because it sounds like it doesn't apply to everyone in the state, right?

NIXON: Right. So these new orders are tied to intensive care unit capacity. They'll go into effect when an area has less than 15% of its ICU beds available. And it's not just the beds that are the issue here. It's staff to work those beds that are feeling tight, too. So the Southern California region and the Central Valley region went under these new stay-at-home orders yesterday when the available ICU beds there dipped below that 15%. And also, given how things are going here, it's expected that the rest of the state will hit that ICU trigger in the next week or two here.

GREENE: Well, and some counties are, like, not even waiting. They're just saying, we're going to preemptively implement this order before we even have to.

NIXON: Yeah. Five counties in the Bay Area said that they're not going to wait for their ICUs to get to that point. Here is San Francisco health officer Dr. Tomas Aragon explaining why.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOMAS ARAGON: Unlike previous surges, every hospital in California is under stress. There is no place to transfer people if we run out of beds. Three quarters of the state's hospital beds are currently full.

NIXON: These Bay Area counties actually implemented the very first stay-at-home order back in March even before the state did. So this strategy is in line with how they've been handling the pandemic from the beginning.

GREENE: Well, and we all remember California taking some of the strictest approaches of anywhere in the country early on. So does it just feel like we're going back in time to march now in California?

NIXON: A little bit. These new orders are not as sweeping as the March stay-at-home order. For example, schools that are already open can stay open. On the other hand, businesses like hair and nail salons, movie theaters, bars and wineries have to close again. Restaurants have to go takeout or delivery only. And churches have to conduct worship services outdoors. Retail stores can stay open this time but at a very limited capacity. And these orders will be in effect for at least three weeks.

GREENE: How are business owners reacting?

NIXON: Well, many business owners are angry. Small businesses have already been through so much this year. And some see the ban on outdoor dining and things like that as arbitrary. I've been talking with small business owner Rosey Ibarra (ph). She's a hairstylist in Temecula in Southern California. And she told me that she does not intend to comply with this new round of restrictions.

ROSEY IBARRA: I am not closing. I feel confident to properly and safely take care of my clients. None of my clients have rescheduled. None of them feel that coming to my salon is going to be unsafe for them at this time.

NIXON: Abara says that for months she's been following the health guidelines from the state, the county and the state cosmetology board. And she says that those things are working.

GREENE: So with resistance like that, is that going to make it hard for the state to enforce this?

NIXON: Yeah. Well, the state doesn't have an easy way to enforce it without relying on local police. And some local sheriffs have been reluctant to shut down individual businesses and saying they'll go education-first instead. So in effect, the governor's counting on persuading people to stay home.

GREENE: Nicole Nixon of CapRadio talking to us about these new restrictions in California with these COVID cases surging in hospitals under real strain. Nicole, thanks so much for your reporting.

NIXON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.