Yolo County health officer explains need for new restrictions

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Yolo County faces a dire scenario where there are not enough ICU beds and trained caregivers to take care of patients, and those patients may die because they can’t get the care they need.

That was the message from county health officer, Dr. Aimee Sisson, on Monday, just days after she issued a new health order targeting three activities she said pose the highest risk for local COVID-19 transmission — dining out at restaurants, shopping indoors and playing contact sports.

Sisson’s order — which applies only to Yolo County — says only people who live together may eat together at restaurants; limits retail businesses to 20 percent of customer capacity (except for grocery stores which are limited to 35 percent effective Tuesday); and ends all athletic practices and competitions for youth, collegiate and professional sports.

In explaining the need for the restrictions on Monday, Sisson said, “our two hospitals are running out of ICU beds.”

By Tuesday morning, the state reported zero ICU capacity in Yolo County, though 18.8 percent capacity in the greater Sacramento region remained.

“Normally, low ICU beds wouldn’t be a big deal,” said Sisson, because “hospitals would simply transfer people needing ICU care to other hospitals. The problem now is that these other hospitals are also filling up.

“Unless we act now, we may soon reach a point where there are not enough ICU beds and trained caregivers to take care of the sickest patients,” said Sisson. “In this dire scenario, patients might die because they can’t get the care they need. This doesn’t just affect patients with COVID-19. It also affects people with cancer, heart attacks and strokes.”

The decline in available ICU beds across California prompted the state last week to issue a new regional stay-at-home order that goes into effect when a region’s ICU capacity drops below 15 percent.

That order goes further than Yolo County’s new order, limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery only; shuttering hair and nail salons; and also closing outdoor playgrounds.

Over the weekend, two of the state’s five regions — Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley — saw their ICU capacity drop below 15 percent and they are now under the new state order. The Bay Area, meanwhile, hasn’t reached the 15 percent threshold but five counties there voluntarily imposed the stay-at-home order.

Yolo County’s new health order “won’t keep our region from triggering the state’s stay-at-home order,” said Sisson, “but it will slow the spread of the coronavirus and shorten the length of time hospitals are strained. And in doing so, it will save lives.”

The state predicts the 13-county greater Sacramento region that Yolo County belongs to will drop below 15 percent ICU capacity within the next week or so, triggering the state order which will place additional restrictions on activities in Yolo County.

But with cases continuing to rise — including 125 new cases on Monday alone — the demand for hospital and ICU beds “is only going to increase,” Sisson said. “We simply cannot wait for a state order before we make a change.”

That change, which took effect at midnight on Saturday included the following:

* Only people who live together can eat together at restaurants. “Because you can’t wear a mask while you eat and drink, it is important to only share a table with people you live with,” Sisson said.

* All athletic practices and competitions for youths, college students and even professionals must cease. “Sports that bring athletes from different households close together without masks are simply too dangerous right now,” Sisson said.

* All retail businesses are limited to 20 percent of capacity and must count people entering to make sure the cap isn’t exceeded. “This cap applies equally to big-box stores and small businesses, regardless of what they sell,” noted Sisson. “With fewer people in a store, people will be able to stay at least six feet apart at all times.”

Previously grocery stores were allowed to operate at 50 percent of capacity, but the state, in its stay-at-home order issued last week, reduced all retail — including grocery stores — to 20 percent. However, on Sunday, the state’s public health officer amended that order to increase grocery store capacity to 35 percent “in order to ensure that California’s grocery stores are able to safely deliver sufficient quantities of food to California households.”

Yolo County likewise amended its order on Tuesday, allowing grocery stores to operate at 35 percent capacity, which may reduce the sorts of lines that were seen at some grocery stores since Sunday.

And while the new local order does not require county residents to stay home, “I strongly encourage you to stay home as much as you can,” said Sisson.

“Stores are staying open for now,” she noted, “but that doesn’t mean you should spend hours leisurely shopping. Get in, get out, and go back home.

“There is more virus in Yolo County now than there has ever been,” she said. “This means that activities that used to be safe simply aren’t safe any more. Don’t assume that because you did something last month and didn’t get sick that you will be fine doing that same activity now.”

“We won’t have to do this forever,” Sisson added. “The COVID-19 vaccine is coming.”

In fact, she said, “Yolo County expects to begin vaccinating health care workers and longterm-care facility residents later this week.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we are still in the tunnel,” said Sisson. “Please do your part to save lives by staying home and not gathering.

“It might not be just your own life that you save, but it might also be the life of your parent, your spouse, your sibling, your coworker or your neighbor.”

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