Newsom cancels California’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders

A  masked and shielded server works at The Hook & Plow in Hermosa Beach.
A masked and shielded server works at The Hook & Plow in Hermosa Beach on Nov. 25, the final afternoon before a 10 p.m. end to outdoor dining in Los Angeles County.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

California officials lifted regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders across the state on Monday, a change that could allow restaurants and gyms in many counties to reopen outdoor dining and other services.

All counties will return to the colored tier system that assigns local risk levels based on case numbers and rates of positive test results for coronavirus infections, according to sources briefed on the plan by the governor’s office.

Most counties will be classified under the “widespread” risk tier, which permits hair salons to offer limited services indoors but restricts many other nonessential indoor business operations.

The change, which takes effect immediately, could lessen restrictions in in the Southern California, Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley regions, which are still under the stay-at-home order, unless local officials adopt stronger restrictions.

“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,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “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.”

It’s far from clear whether the decision will lead to easing stay-at-home rules in Los Angeles County, which has become a national hotbed of the coronavirus, with hospitals overwhelmed by patients. In less than one month, more than 5,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the county alone.

Still, the outdoor dining ban has been highly controversial, with some elected officials and the restaurant industry fighting in court and out to overturn it. Officials in some other Southern California counties have been even more critical of the state-imposed rules, and had urged Newsom to give them more local control.

The governor announced the regional stay-at-home orders on Dec. 3 in an effort to reduce the strain on hospitals as case numbers surged. Although state data show hospital systems in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remain strained, the Newsom administration told officials Sunday that models project ICU capacity in those areas will exceed 15% — a threshold for lifting the regional shutdowns — over the next four weeks.

In just 24 days, 5,106 people have died in Los Angeles County from COVID-19, while about 10,000 died in the previous nine months.

Jan. 23, 2021

Earlier this month, Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders for the Greater Sacramento region.

State officials have not released a full accounting of how four-week ICU calculations were being made. And although services were allowed to reopen in the Sacramento region on Dec. 13, daily reports of available intensive care beds never approached the 15% threshold deemed necessary to cancel the restrictions. ICU capacity in the Northern California region, which is not under the stay-at-home order, has continued to remain above the state’s shutdown benchmarks.

The Bay Area, which reported 23.4% capacity, had remained under the stay-at-home order due to a four-week projection of a decrease in hospital bed availability. Southern California showed no ICU availability, and the San Joaquin Valley region reported 1.3%, according to state data as of Saturday.

After a winter surge, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are beginning to decline across the state.

But California is continuing to see a record-breaking number of deaths from COVID-19, a lagging indicator of the surge.

Despite positive developments, officials are expressing growing concerns about new and potentially more contagious variants of the coronavirus that have been detected in California and beyond.

One of the new variants is believed to be 50% more transmissible than the conventional variety of the coronavirus. It that variant became widespread, it would lead to more infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Vaccines, aggressive strains and fatigue: California hits 3 million COVID cases and a crossroads.

Jan. 20, 2021

The situation in Los Angeles County remains critical despite improvements in the number of cases. Hospitals are seeing reductions in the number of COVID-19 patients, but many facilities are still overcrowded. Just two weeks ago, officials talked about expanding the stay-at-home order by closing malls and outdoor gyms. But no action was taken.

Restaurants have sued to block Los Angeles County’s ban on outdoor dining, with the next hearing set for February. They said the restrictions had devastated restaurant owners and their employees, who were already struggling amid the pandemic. Outdoor dining had offered a lifeline for some, and restaurants invested thousands of dollars to be able to offer it.

Last week, a group of more than 50 wineries and restaurants across Napa and Sonoma counties sued to overturn a state ban on in-person dining, with owners saying their constitutional rights are being trampled as they slip into financial ruin.

John Myers and Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.