By Kathleen Ronayne and John Antczak
California lifted regional stay-at-home orders across the state Monday in response to improving coronavirus conditions, returning the state to a system of county-by-county restrictions, state health officials announced.
The order had been in place in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, covering the majority of the state’s counties.
The change will allow businesses such as restaurants to resume outdoor operations in many areas, though local officials could choose to continue stricter rules. The state is also lifting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
“Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner,” Dr. Tomas Aragon, the state’s public health director, said in a statement.
Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the public Monday. Public officials in California’s major cities indicated they could soon lift local restrictions.
“We will be moving forward with some limited re-openings, including outdoor dining and personal services,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a tweet.
In Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, Republican Supervisor Kathryn Barger expressed support for opening more businesses and said the state must balance public health with “devastating social, emotional and economic impacts of this virus.”
“I support following the Governor’s recommended guidelines for Southern California, and reopening outdoor dining, personal care services and other industries that were previously closed by these orders,” she said.
The decision came amid improving trends in the state’s rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations.
Newsom, a Democrat, imposed the stay-at-home order in December as coronavirus cases worsened.
Under the system, a multi-county region had to shut down most businesses and order people to stay home if ICU capacity dropped below 15%. An 11-county Northern California region was never under the order and the Greater Sacramento Region exited the order last week. The state makes its decisions based on four-week projections showing ICU capacity improving, but officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.
San Francisco Bay Area ICU capacity surged to 23% while the San Joaquin Valley agricultural region increased to 1.3%, its first time above zero. The huge Southern California region, the most populous, remains at zero ICU capacity.
Early last year, the state developed a system of color-coded tiers that dictated the level of restrictions on businesses and individuals based on virus conditions in each of California’s 58 counties.
Most counties will now go back to the most restrictive purple tier, which allows for outdoor dining, hair and nail salons to be open, and outdoor church services. Bars that only serve beverages cannot be open.
The county-by-county tier system uses various metrics to determine the risk of community transmission and apply a color code _ purple, red, orange or yellow _ which correspond to widespread, substantial, moderate and minimal, respectively.
As of last weekend, California has had more than 3.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 36,790 deaths, according to the state’s public health website.