As a strict new stay-at-home order went into effect in Southern California, three counties on Monday announced they will seek to separate from the region and create a smaller one that could potentially exclude them from the restrictions.
This comes less than a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the state’s proposal for regional stay-at-home orders, drastic measures that officials say are necessary amid fears that the state’s health care system will soon be overwhelmed by the amount of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Under the state’s current plan, California is carved up into five regions: Southern California, San Joaquin Valley, San Fransisco Bay Area, Northern California and Greater Sacramento.
But three of the 11 counties that are part of Southern California — Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo — want to exit that region and form a new one: Central Coast.
Officials in the tri-county area announced they would submit that request with the state, provided ICU capacity exceeds 15% in the next three weeks, according to a news release from Ventura County.
“A smaller regional approach is important for our community members and struggling businesses. We believe it’s reasonable to have the Central Coast as one region instead of including our County with over half the State’s population in the current Southern California Region,” Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers explained in the release. “This is a critical time to work together to bring the numbers down, save lives and save businesses.”
Under the state’s approach, a stay-at-home order will be triggered in a region for at least three weeks when its ICU capacity drops below 15%. That has already happened in the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions, where shutdowns were ordered at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
As such, more than 80% of Californians are now under an order that forces some sectors to close, and imposes restrictions and capacity limits on others.
Once the three week-period period ends, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties will request to be assessed based solely on ICU capacity in their region, according to the release.
“Allowing our local tri-counties to meet the State’s metrics collectively provides a better opportunity for our Central Coast Region to move forward safely,” Powers said.
Officials argue that the three counties could prevent coronavirus-related educational and economic hardships in local communities if they were allowed to form their own region, according to the release.
But if the counties continue to be designated as part of Southern California, the area will not be allowed to get out of the targeted stay-at-home order — even if ICU capacity in the Central Coast is higher than 15%.
As of Monday, the availability of beds in intensive care units was at 15% in Ventura County and 38% in Santa Barbara County, according to the latest data. In San Luis Obispo County, COVID-19 patients took up four of the area’s 53 ICU beds, though the data did not specify how many other beds were being used by those without the coronavirus.
In all of the Southern California region, nearly 90% of ICU beds were in use, according to state data.
“Allowing this change will not have a significant impact on the ICU availability rates of the remaining counties in the Southern California Region, given their much larger size and populations; yet it will have a tremendous impact on the Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo communities,” the release stated.
Officials pointed to the much-smaller population in the Central Coast area, which is about 1.5 million. The Southern California region represents 23.1 million residents.