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Beleaguered businesses brace for another shutdown

File photo, owner Steve Dismukes stands in front of his Corner Pocket Sports Bar, which has been ordered to close its doors multiple times amid changing COVID-19 health orders.

By Mike Hazlip–
New restrictions affecting businesses and residents in Citrus Heights and the Sacramento region go into effect Thursday night, following ICU bed capacity dipping below the state’s benchmark of at least 15% bed availability.

The restrictions become effective on Dec. 10 at 11:59 p.m. and will continue for a minimum of three weeks. Sacramento County said the region’s ICU capacity will be assessed on a weekly basis after the initial three-week period.

Business sectors ordered to close all operations are amusement parks, bars, cardrooms, family entertainment centers, hair salons and barbershops, indoor playgrounds, live audience sports, museums, zoos, and aquariums, and personal care services.

Corner Pocket Sports Bar in Citrus Heights announced an “All-Day Special” for Thursday before the new order takes effect.

“We are as unsure about the near future as you all are, so we might as well take this opportunity to enjoy some good food, great spirits, and appreciate the people who continue to support us as a business, and for who we call friends,” the announcement reads. Pushing back on the latest restrictions, the bar promises food and alcohol specials “crazier than our governor’s new order!”

Under the new regional order, outdoor operations are permitted for drive-in theaters, gyms, places of worship, and recreational facilities, but all outdoor dining has been ordered to close, with restaurants only allowed to provide takeout and delivery.

Indoor operations are permitted for all retail, but are limited to 20% capacity. Child care, critical infrastructure, hotels, libraries, medical care, and movie production can also continue.

Under guidelines released by the state on Dec. 3, stay-at-home orders take effect if regional ICU bed capacity drops below 15%. The new guidelines aim to curb the spread of COVID-19, amid projections that ICU beds will reach maximum capacity statewide by mid-December.

According to data posted on the state’s COVID-19 website, ICU capacity for the greater Sacramento region has dropped to 14.3%. Statewide, there was an average of 11.6% ICU bed availability, as of Wednesday.

The governor’s new regional map divides the state into five different regions. Intensive Care Unit bed availability for each region is calculated using data provided by hospitals and does not include neonatal or pediatric unit beds. The Sacramento Region includes Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba counties.

While the region’s ICU capacity has exceeded the 85% benchmark, Sacramento County has fared somewhat better, with 81% capacity reported on Dec. 8th. In August and September, capacity hovered around 77%.

Current hospitalizations involving COVID-19 in the county have far exceeded the prior high point of 281 on July 30, with the number reaching 398 on Tuesday, according to Sacramento County’s online health dashboard. ICU cases are also rising, with 85 reported on Dec. 8, but the total has not exceeded the prior peak of 91 on Aug. 1st.

Countywide there were a total of 542 ICU beds reported on Tuesday, with 439 taken. Most beds are taken by patients with conditions other than COVID-19.

Pushback against health orders has been growing, with the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday opting to shelve a proposal that sought to impose fines up to $10,000 per day on businesses violating health orders. Supervisor Sue Frost, who lives in Citrus Heights, was a vocal critic of the plan, calling it “onerous” and “overly broad.”

“While I fully agree that we all have to do our part to get through this pandemic, I believe imposing severe fines on business owners who are trying to keep afloat is a horrible way to do it,” said Frost in a statement following the meeting. She advocated a focus on outreach and education to increase compliance.

Protesters showed up at the meeting to voice opposition to the proposal, with board members reporting several thousand public comments were submitted on the topic. Advocates of the proposal said it was needed to address a small number of businesses that are disregarding health orders.

County health officials say they may return with a modified proposal in several weeks that would instead target large private gatherings with fines, according to The Sacramento Bee. Several supervisors have already indicated they would oppose such a proposal as well.

Related article: Frost criticizes attempt to fine businesses over COVID-19 compliance

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