The COVID-19 clock is ticking in Sacramento toward two major moments this week.
Health officials on Monday said they suspect they will have to announce the shutdown of further businesses by the end of this week or early next week – this time restaurants, hair salons and barbers – as the capital region struggles to stem an increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
However, the end of the week could also bring the first flush of dramatic and long-anticipated good news: The initial albeit limited doses of the coronavirus vaccine could arrive at local health facilities as early as Saturday.
The federal government may approve distribution of the first vaccine, produced by Pfizer, later this week, allowing for almost immediate shipment nationally of a limited round of doses.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said his health officials are hoping for vaccines sometime between Saturday and Monday of next week. The initial shipment to California will be very limited, about 327,000 doses, Newsom said.
But the state could obtain a total of 2.6 million doses by the end of December, good enough to vaccinate 1.3 million of the state’s 40 million residents. More doses will come in the new year.
Sacramento County Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said it is unclear how much of that initial shipment will make its way to Sacramento, but, she said, “we will get some from the first shipment.”
The first doses will go to critical hospital care workers, and likely some to nursing facilities. But there appear to be plenty of uncertainties still about the exact federal and state priorities on who gets the initial doses.
“We have been in communication with hospitals to make sure we are prepared,” Kasirye said. But, she said, “we are awaiting additional guidance on who we are going to start with.”
The vaccine is expected to arrive at a critical time in the region’s long battle with the coronavirus pandemic. Kasirye said she is optimistic that the expected upcoming shutdown, combined with the beginnings of vaccinations, will put Sacramento and the state in a much safer position in the new year.
“The hope is that in the new year, once we get past the major celebrations, we will see reductions” in cases and hospitalizations, she said.
Clock ticking on shutdowns
The governor last week announced that areas of the state will have to close restaurants, hair salons and a few other businesses if those areas’ ICU staffed bed availability dips below 15%.
As of Monday, the greater 13-county Sacramento region’s ICUs had 20% capacity left. The 13 counties lumped into that region are Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba.
Already, two major areas of the state have dipped below 15%, the San Joaquin Valley and the Southern California region, which includes Los Angeles County.
Sacramento, at the moment, appears likely to drop below 15% toward the end of this week or early next week, county health officer Kasirye said on Monday. When that happens, the affected businesses will be required to shut or reduce operations within 24 hours.
Several counties, including five Bay Area counties and Yolo County, already have voluntarily announced they are shutting down additional businesses even though they are in regions that have yet to dip below 15% ICU capacity.
Kasirye said Sacramento County health officials discussed taking the same voluntary step, but decided to wait to see when and in fact whether the greater Sacramento number hits 15%.
She expressed some concern for hard-hit local businesses. “They are under a lot of financial pressure. People want to comply (with health orders), but they have bills to pay,” she said. “We finally made the decision we will wait. The numbers do go up and down a bit.”
The forecast for new infections during the next week or two does not look good, she said. The numbers of new positive cases has hit all-time highs in the last few weeks, including this weekend when infections that likely occurred during Thanksgiving began showing up in the test results.
Hanukkah begins this week, followed by Christmas and then New Years Eve, all major gathering moments for families and friends.
What a COVID shutdown means
Under the governor’s current COVID-19 shutdown edict, when ICU capacity falls below 15%:
▪ Grocery stores remain can open with up to 35% capacity allowed at a time, but must meter shoppers at the front door.
▪ People will be told to stay at home unless they are going to stores, work at essential jobs or are doing recreation that does not involve groups.
▪ Restaurants will be closed for in-person dining, but can serve take-out.
▪ Gatherings for worship or political expression, such as marches and protests, will be allowed outdoors only.
▪ Schools that have already started on-site education can continue; others are barred for now from starting on-site classroom education.
▪ Stores may remain open, but are only allowed 20% capacity at a time.
▪ Bars, wineries, hair salons, barbers, amusement parks, indoor recreation, museums, and card rooms all will be closed.
▪ Hotels are not allowed to accept customers for non-essential travel.
Dr. Erica Pan, acting state public health officer, in signing the order last week, said the goal is to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed prior to the moment when vaccines can be dosed out to a substantial percentage of the population.
“While vaccines are promising future interventions, they are not available to address the immediate risks to healthcare delivery in the current surge,” she wrote. “The immediate aggressive institution of additional non-pharmaceutical public health interventions is critical to avoid further overwhelming hospitals and to prevent the need to ration care.”