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Southern California’s stay-at-home order extended amid COVID surge pushing hospitals to limit

COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit in Southern California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS)

Southern California’s strict stay-at-home orders were extended for the foreseeable future Tuesday as the state’s top public health official warned hospitals are feeling “stretched” to the limit by COVID-19 admissions.

“We’ve been focused as we should be about the intense, critical situation in our hospitals,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a conference call.

He said many California hospitals, especially those in the southern half of the state, were struggling to handle the 20,390 people with COVID-19 receiving hospital care as of Tuesday.

The crush of patients represented an increase of 36.5% over the last two weeks, he said.

ICU admissions due to COVID-19 shot up 35.1% in the last two weeks to reach 4,308 across California, he said.

“This is a tremendous amount of work for these hospital systems,” Dr. Ghaly said. “And this is not evenly distributed across the state.”

He said Southern California hospitals have reported “running out of staff, having to use rooms they don’t traditionally use (and) much longer than normal wait times in emergency departments.”

“You can certainly stretch many rubber bands pretty far, as we are stretching many of our hospitals pretty far. But we know that that stretch has a limit,” he said.

Overall, California reported 31,245 new COVID-19 cases confirmed over the last 24 hours, with the seven-day average adjusted to 37,459.

The positivity rate from mass testing stood at 12.9% Tuesday, still sharply higher than the 10.6% rate on Dec. 15, officials said.

Tuesday’s lockdown extension affects Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, health officials said.

The original order, which went into effect shortly before midnight Dec. 7, bars gatherings of people from different households and keeps many businesses shuttered.

The affected Southern California region includes the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

The San Joaquin Valley region includes the counties of Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne.

The extension means hair salons, museums, zoos, recreational facilities and all in-person restaurant including outside tables must remain closed.

Retail stores must continue limiting capacity to 20% and churches can hold outdoor services only.

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