State officials lifted the regional stay-at-home order Monday, allowing more businesses to reopen with restrictions, and it sparked mixed reactions.
Prior to Monday's announcement, the order had been in place in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions. In December, just before the holiday season, in-person dining was banned across the state.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced the ban reversal Monday, citing slightly improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations.
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Newsom said the state projects Southern California ICU capacity will reach 33% in February.
"We're seeing a flattening of the curve. Everything that should be up is up. Everything that should be down is down," said Newsom.
The policy change will allow businesses such as restaurants to resume outdoor operations in many areas. It also allows businesses including hair salons and nail salons to reopen with restrictions. The state is also lifting its 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Restaurant owners like Trey, the assistant general manager of The Pizza Press in Brea, are relieved about reopening outdoor dining.
"I think it's huge. I think it's really good. I think a lot of other restaurants struggled throughout the shutdown. I think we went down roughly 50 to 55% in sales just from going from outdoor dining to strictly takeout only. A lot of people were looking for places to dine in, and nobody was offering it," said Trey.
Trey said they reached out to their staff to get them back on the schedule.
"We immediately reached out to the staff and told them that we would be reopening, looking to get a lot busier so we needed to add people to the schedule quickly and people we furloughed, we were able to bring them back," he said.
Customers like Susan Bartholomew were excited to return to outdoor dining.
"I'm very thankful. It's nice. It was hard when it was closed and a lot of the locals didn't have anywhere to go and it's nice to support our local areas here," she said.
However, not everyone is pleased with the policy change. Scores of people are perplexed about the timing of it, including Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam who criticized the measure.
"It doesn't make any sense. Just because we have a few hospital beds open, why would we want to go back to the catastrophe or even stay at the catastrophic level we're at? I think it's the wrong measure. Why should we say hey we have a hospital bed open, let's put someone in it. So there's a grave open, should we put someone in that and whose mother should we put in there? This just doesn't make any sense as a policy in the context of an outbreak," said Bar-Yam.
Bar-Yam is concerned about the UK COVID-19 variant.
"What's gonna happen in four weeks? The CDC has said the new variant from the UK is gonna become dominant, and that transmits much faster so it's gonna take over. What we want to do is take action so it doesn't grow. It won't help the businesses to be in yoyo lockdowns instead of being way down in the number of cases," he said.
The state makes the decisions based on four-week projections showing ICU capacity improvements, but officials have not yet disclosed data behind the forecasts.
The California Nurses Association also doesn't appear too thrilled about Monday's announcement. CNA warned the public in a statement that even though numbers are trending downward, California is in the midst of the deadliest surge of COVID-19 yet.
Below is a statement released by CNS:
"Registered nurses across the state of California know that there is a human cost to lifting stay at home orders too soon. Let’s be clear that even if numbers are ‘trending downward,’ we are still in the midst of the most deadly surge of Covid-19 yet. RNs have seen more patient death in the past few weeks than we have seen at any other point in our careers, and as frontline workers, we know better than elected officials and business leaders that it is not time to let our guard down.
Nurses across the state of California continue to work inside of a nightmare. Many of our facilities are still today violating the state’s safe nurse-to-patient staffing law and assigning RNs too many patients to safely care for at once, citing the surge. As of Sunday, nearly 82,574 health care workers across the state had tested positive for Covid-19, and we have lost 324 California health care workers since the start of the pandemic. When nurses and health care workers aren’t safe, patients aren’t safe, and we cannot afford to lose one more frontline caregiver.
A new, more contagious strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has also recently been identified in California, making now an especially concerning time to lift stay at home orders. According to the LA Times, ‘Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that although the strain had been barely detectable in early October, it accounted for 24% of roughly 4,500 viral samples gathered throughout California in the last weeks of 2020.’ The emergence of more transmissible variants underlines the importance of taking steps to prevent transmission. Ultimately, all viruses need hosts to survive and spread, so no matter how this virus mutates, we need to keep using the measures that prevent transmission: staying at home, not gathering with others outside your household, and fully protecting nurses and other essential workers.
Nurses call on state leaders to prioritize people over profits, and we urge the public to listen to nurses and continue following the stay at home orders. Anything less now would only increase suffering and death for people across California, including the nurses and other health care workers who are critical to getting Covid-19 under control."