The recent Southern California stay-at-home order, which forced many businesses to close their doors until further notice, is generating backlash from several Orange County leaders and communities that insist the state’s methods are not working.
Businesses with indoor and outdoor dining, recreational facilities and personal care services were all brought to a halt after California Gov. Gavin Newsom instated a new mandate, which affects California regions with an intensive care unit capacity below 15%. As of Monday, Southern California has 2.7% ICU availability, according to the California COVID-19 website.
“We're in a very critical stage. If we don't practice shelter at home today, in two weeks, we're not going to be able to have any ICU beds available,” said Dr. Mojgan Sami, a Cal State Fullerton assistant public health professor who has held advisory roles with the World Health Organization.
The mandate mimics the first stay-at-home order from March, albeit on a slightly lighter scale. Retail and shopping centers will continue to operate at 20% capacity with no eating or drinking indoors, and some schools and critical infrastructure will remain open with safety precautions.
In the thick of the holiday season, the most recent order will run through Christmas but end before New Year’s. This set social media ablaze with public comments, some of which stated that they simply would not listen.
OC Sheriff Don Barnes said that the order was a matter of personal responsibility, not law enforcement. Though he urged people to follow public health recommendations, he said that deputies will not respond to calls regarding enforcement of masks, social gatherings or stay-at-home orders only.
“Policy makers must not penalize residents for earning a livelihood, safeguarding their mental health or enjoying our most cherished freedoms,” Barnes said in a statement.
Sami stressed the enormity of the strain on healthcare workers, who are dealing with much more than just COVID-19.
“We have to be so careful that our last line of assistance, which is the medical community, is not so overburdened that they have to turn people away,” Sami said. “COVID is taking up a percentage of the beds in the ICU, but we are still dealing with cancer. We're still dealing with heart attacks and strokes; we're still dealing with so many other diseases, that adding COVID on top of that makes the situation quite dangerous.”
In Orange County, there are 3,250 COVID-19 cases currently hospitalized as of Monday, with 288 of those in the ICU, according to the OC Health Care Agency.
Many opponents of the stay-at-home order speak on behalf of small businesses, thousands of which have been decimated by the pandemic’s economic turmoil. OC Supervisor Don Wagner said that certain communities needed to stay home and should be able to, but urged those who could to support businesses.
“When we are supporting business, we really are supporting the human beings that make up that business, that start that business, that work for that business, that use that business to buy goods and services. That’s why this is so important. It’s not the businesses, it’s the people of Orange County that make up those businesses,” Wagner said at the OC board of supervisors meeting on Dec. 8.
Dozens of Orange County residents voiced their opposition to the order and Newsom, with some speaking for struggling businesses and others unable to see their relatives.
“My father-in-law died in the nursing home,” said one resident. “We were never able to see him. He had just moved from out-of-state and moved here, and through dementia they put him into a home. We never saw him again.”
Orange County supervisors Don Wagner and Lisa Bartlett co-sponsored a resolution that said the state was ill-suited for region-wide restrictions and Orange County should determine COVID-19 measures, which was approved unanimously by the board.
“We are hearing from citizens throughout Orange County, not just my district, because frankly they have a loss of faith in the ability of the state of California to respond to coronavirus,” Wagner said.
Sami said the lack of a national plan largely contributed to the U.S.’s failure to follow. In the six weeks of the first stay-at-home order, Sami said the country should have ramped up rapid testing and contact tracing. Instead, it was left with mixed messages from the federal government and a lack of unity that created a sense of distrust and animosity, she said.
Sami works in global spaces and connects with colleagues in other countries who have managed control over COVID-19. There is only one thing that other countries have that the U.S. does not, she said.
“The only thing that we're lacking is individual compassion. We're lacking solidarity. The things that we lack in the United States have nothing to do with science and technical expertise, and everything to do with ethics, and compassion, and kindness and humility, and responsibility,” she said. “As a public health professional, how do I get people to care about each other?”