California counties running out of intensive care unit beds will be going back into a coronavirus pandemic shut down, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday, Dec. 3.
“If we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said during a midday news conference. “We are pulling that emergency brake.”
Many Inland Empire officials and business owners are not happy about it.
“Our businesses keep suffering and suffering. It’s that nail in the coffin for so many,” said Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel. “My heart is just bleeding for those businesses. We’ve got to figure out what we can do to help them.”
A large portion of the state will be going into a 21-day shutdown, as officials project most regions, including Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, will have fewer than 15% of their ICU beds available by early December.
That means hair salons will be shutting back down and restaurants will be returning to take-out service only. Newsom, who referred to himself as a restauranteur during Thursday’s announcement, said he’s sympathetic to the challenges restaurant owners are facing.
“I don’t think (the governor is) looking long term at how this is affecting families and businesses,” Spiegel said. “I don’t think he really understands the unintended consequences this is having on California.”
California’s COVID-19 business restrictions have been met with skepticism and frustration by Riverside County supervisors, who have said the county’s worked hard to reopen businesses, only to have Sacramento move the goalposts with new metrics or standards.
In September, the board considered its own rules for reopening businesses. Instead, supervisors voted to get further clarity on whether and how group meetings, like those in hotels and conference centers, could take place.
Newsom referred to the current wave of coronavirus infections, which has seen infection records set almost daily in the Inland Empire, a “third, and hopefully final, surge.”
“We have seen cases and other metrics sharply rising for the past few weeks and we expect it will get worse as the December holidays approach, so we must be vigilant in slowing the spread of the virus,” Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said via email, noting that from Nov. 4 to Dec. 2, the county’s confirmed cases grew 23% to almost 86,000 while hospitalizations nearly tripled to 628.
Field hospitals at the former Sears building in Riverside and the Indio fairgrounds “are staged with equipment for a lower level of care” and available if needed, Federico said.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford said she wasn’t sure what the effect of the order would be because she isn’t sure how many people will follow it.
“I just think that people are skeptical,” she said. “He lacks credibility when he says ‘don’t eat in restaurants’ and then makes headlines for eating in restaurants.”
Rutherford thinks limiting retail to 20%, as the new order requires, in the height of the holiday season could be “devastating.” But she thinks the skyrocketing hospitalization numbers in the county are concerning.
“If you have any healthcare workers in your life, they can tell you what life is like in a hospital right now — it’s crazy. It’s bad and it’s scary,” she said. “So if we can help that so that they’re better able to help the sickest among us, I want to be part of helping that.”
People should wash their hands, wear masks and socially distance, but the government can’t force people to avoid visiting other households, she said.
“This is still the United States, and we’re not going to tell you not to get together with your family,” she said. “At the same time, you really shouldn’t get together with your family.”
In an emailed statement, state Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, took aim at Newsom’s admission he attended a birthday party at a high-end Napa Valley restaurant in contradiction of state guidelines and his advice to Californians.
“The insanity of another lockdown and expecting a different result is madness,” she said. “To add insult to tremendous injury, the governor and too many Democrat elected officials don’t even follow their own mandates. Californians damn well deserve better.”
Newsom, who has received almost universal criticism for his decision to attend the birthday dinner at the posh French Laundry, in violation of state and local healthcare guidelines, brushed off suggestions that had had lost credibility with Californians who will not be able to dine in at their favorite restaurants this holiday season.
He’ll regain the public’s trust by “doing my job,” he said, before quickly moving on.
A planned Christmas Drive-Thru event hosted by San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5, was canceled. Rutherford’s office blamed the state’s newly imposed COVID-19 restrictions.
Newsom’s order isn’t stopping every bit of holiday cheer. Holiday drive-thru events, including the Elf on the Shelf in Pomona and Electric Noel in Norco are still going forward, representatives said Thursday.
As he wrapped up Thursday’s announcement, Newsom stressed that these restrictions are temporary and that help — in the form of vaccines arriving in California this month — is on the way.
“This is not a marathon any longer,” he said. “This is a sprint.”