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In California: Rollout plans for stay-at-home orders and vaccine distribution explained

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Stay-at-home orders are expected in many parts of California in the coming days and weeks in what Gov. Gavin Newsom calls the “final surge” of the coronavirus pandemic. And, while public health officials warn of a “surge within a surge” following the Thanksgiving holiday, firefighters were battling a 7,200-acre fire in Orange County — a sign that “wildfire season” isn’t quite over. Plus: Which health care workers will be vaccinated first? And, another mysterious work of art pops up in the West. 

Hi, there. I’m Maria Sestito, senior issues reporter for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs. Today is Thursday, Dec. 3 and, thankfully, I already bought my toilet paper for this month. If you haven’t, don’t panic — there are worse things than using paper towels (trust me). 

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.  

COVID-19: SoCal, we’re all in this together. Really.

Where I hail from in New Jersey, there aren’t clear divisions between the south, north and mythicized central regions. California doesn’t have that problem. 

Today Newsom announced plans for a regional stay-at-home orders based on hospital capacity, saying that he expects the entire state to be under restrictions within the month of December. The state has been broken up into five regions based on previously designated health care mutual aid programs. 

Under the new regional stay-at-home order, California counties will be grouped into five regions, including:

  • Northern California: Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity
  • Bay Area: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma
  • Greater Sacramento: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba
  • San Joaquin Valley: Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne
  • Southern California: Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura

Here’s the map:

The orders will go into effect for an entire region if that area sees its ICU capacity drop below 15%. 

“If we don’t act now, our hospital systems will be overwhelmed. If we don’t act now, death rates will climb,” Newsom said.

Though no region has been ordered to lockdown yet, Newsom said he expects the order to be issued soon based on rising hospitalization data. For every region except for the Bay Area, he said, the order could come within days. The Bay Area, where case rates have been lower, might not see the order until mid- to late December, he added. 

“The effects of Thanksgiving have not yet been felt, they will be felt in a number of weeks,” Newsom said. “This will be a surge on top of a surge.”

When — it seems naïve to say “if” — the orders go into effect, residents will be prohibited from having gatherings with people from outside their households. Essential businesses (like grocery stores) will be allowed to operate but limited to 20% capacity, and bars, wineries, salons, and restaurant dining will need to close. Hotels can only be open for critical infrastructure support.

Restaurants will still be able to provide take-out and delivery; and schools can remain open if they’ve received a waiver. 

The governor said the state will “redirect dollars” if counties defy orders and don’t enforce protocols, instead giving the funds to “more deserving” counties.

The announcement comes after weeks of a rapid climb of new COVID-19 cases across the state. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have increased nearly 90% and could triple by Christmas, officials said this week. 

In the last two weeks alone, Newsom said, close to 1,000 Californians have died due to COVID-19, including 113 just in the last 24 hours. 

And you might want to cancel any upcoming vacations because all non-essential travel is restricted. Walking the dog, exercising outdoors, and going to local and state parks are encouraged, he said, along with continuing to socially distance, wearing face coverings and washing your hands frequently. 

“This is not a permanent state,” Newsom said. “This is what we predicted. This is the final surge of the pandemic. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

What about vaccines? Who is going to get them first?

Newsom also announced how the state is prioritizing distributing the first round of COVID-19 vaccines. In the first rollout, the state is expecting to have 327,000 doses — but since each person needs two, that will cover just 163,500 people. 

Those who face the highest risk of transmission are at the top of the list:

  • Tier 1: Health care workers with direct exposure to patients at acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals; workers at skilled nursing facilities; paramedics; and workers at dialysis centers
  • Tier 2: Workers at intermediate health care facilities, in-home health workers, community health workers, public health field staff and workers at primary care clinics
  • Tier 3: Workers at specialty clinics, lab workers, dental offices, and pharmacy staff not included in other tiers.

The order for the vaccines will be sent to Pfizer on Friday, and the state anticipates the vaccines will be available for distribution come mid-December. 

And, Newsom made clear, there will be no line-cutting! Not even for the rich and famous. 

“We will be very aggressive in making sure those with means and influence are not crowding out those who are most deserving of vaccines,” Newsom said. “We will be monitoring that very, very closely.”

Amid Santa Ana winds, thousands of acres burn in the OC  

The Bond Fire in Orange County has burned more than 7,200 acres and was at 0% containment late Thursday evening, according to the Orange County Register. And, with intense Santa Ana winds expected to continue this week, wildfire season isn’t over yet. 

“We’re in December and we now have active wildfires still in our state,” Newsom said. Given these winds, paired with below-average precipitation statewide and a record dry October, Californians must “stay vigilant,” he said.

The Orange County fire started as a house fire Wednesday night, but spread quickly to dry brush as wind gusts topped 70 mph. Thursday morning, smoke was visible for miles. 

“We’ve seen the wind change also drastically, so that’s what we’re telling all our personnel to be aware of –– that constantly changing wind,” Orange County Fire Authority Captain Thanh Nguyen told CBS LA TV.

Two firefighters have been injured, reported The Register. 

A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for  about 25,000 residents, the L.A. Tiimes reported.   

“It’s shocking that fire season is still going on into December. It seems like every time there’s winds, a fire breaks out,” Patrick Day, who was packing his things up for the second time in five weeks, told the Times. “So much of the hillside burned in the last fire and there’s so little left to burn, so I’m not so sure how big of a risk there is to my home.”

Also during the night, Southern California utilities cut power to tens of thousands of customers to try to prevent fires related to the high winds. Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger through Saturday were in place because of low humidity, bone-dry brush and the winds, which sweep down from the interior, the National Weather Service said.

San Diego County residents were also evacuated as a fire threatened about 200 homes. Firefighters were able to reach 50% containment, but at least one home was destroyed. 

Evacuations were also ordered near Nuevo in Riverside County, about 50 miles to the east of the Bond Fire, due to a small fire. 

Monolith discovered in SoCal

Just days after a mysterious 9-foot obelisk appeared and then disappeared in Utah, a similar structure has been located in San Luis Obispo County, according to the Atascadero News

The stainless-steel colored monument appeared at the top of Atascadero’s Pine Mountain and, similarly to the one found in Utah, sparked the interest of local hikers. 

Unlike its Utah sibling, the Atascadero obelisk was not installed into the ground , and could be knocked over with a firm push, the media outlet reported. The Atascadero News estimates the 10-ft high structure weighs about 200 pounds.

A third structure, though more distressed looking, was also found in Romania.

All three structures were installed without permission. 

Visitors to the Pine Mountain structure parked on vegetation and, apparently, left a mess behind.  “Right after it had fallen over and made a loud thud, one of them said, ‘This is why you don’t leave trash in the desert,’” Colorado photographer Ross Bernards wrote in an Instagram post

Phew! I think that’s enough news for the day. In California will be back tomorrow.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: the Associated Press, Atascadero News, the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Times, CBS LA TV, and NPR, 

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