San Mateo County health officer reinforces stance on not joining stay-at-home order

San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow. (Courtesy of San Mateo County Health)

San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow on Monday reinforced the county’s stance in not adopting a new COVID-19 stay-at-home order, saying that increased restrictions might not be effective, hospital capacity remains adequate and people have an individual responsibility to practice safe behaviors.

On Friday, several Bay Area counties and cities — including Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties — announced a new stay home order that is now in effect Monday despite intensive care unit capacity being above the state’s 15 percent threshold for such an order.

The new order requires most nonessential businesses to temporarily stop all operations.

However, San Mateo County did not join in implementing the order, and Morrow released a statement on Monday outlining the reasons why. The statement comes after two statements on the county’s Joint Information Center reinforcing its stance.

“When I look at the trend data, the Bay Area seems to mostly move as a region, and it seems to me to be pretty independent of individual Health Officers’ action,” Morrow said.

San Mateo County’s unadjusted case rate of 16.3 new cases per day per 100,000 is less than the state’s case rate of 30.2 per day per 100,000, according to the state’s data.

Statewide, ICU capacity is at 14.2 percent, compared to 25.7 percent in the Bay Area region, and 32.6 percent in San Mateo County.

But according to Morrow, there is no standard method for understanding ICU capacity on a county or regional level.

“Basing such extreme decisions on non-standardized and poorly understood metrics seems fraught to me,” he said.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

While Morrow noted that hospitalizations are also going up, he said the county’s hospitals are equipped to deal with the surge. County data shows that there were 84 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, with 59 ICU beds in use and 21 available, plus an addition 88 ICU surge beds available.

Morrow said that an enforced stay-at-home order could slow down COVID-19 transmission rates, but described the Bay Area’s new order as “symbolic” and “without any hint of enforcement.”

He doubted that a new order would change behaviors of those who were not adhering by COVID-19 guidelines before.

San Mateo County is already in the most restrictive (purple) tier of the state’s reopening system, which limits indoor activities. Restaurants, gyms and places of worship are just some of the activities that are outdoors only, and other indoor facilities have stricter capacity limitations.

The new order would restrict business activities even further. However, Morrow said that he was not aware of data showing that activities — like the ones that would be restricted under a new order – are driving COVID-19 cases up.

Nevertheless, if or when the state mandates a stay home order for the Bay Area, San Mateo County will follow it, as Morrow and other county officials reiterated.

Morrow said that new data may convince him to take action before the state’s action, and again encouraged people to take individual action.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should wear a face covering when around people outside of their household, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings and only travel for essential purposes.

“The power and authority to control this pandemic lies primarily in your hands, not mine,” Morrow said.

To read Morrow’s full statement, people can visit https://www.smchealth.org/health-officer-updates/december-7-2020-health-officer-statement. To view the county’s statements, visit https://cmo.smcgov.org/jic.

People can view the county’s data at https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus-health-data and view state data at https://covid19.ca.gov/.

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