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COVID Surge: San Mateo County To Join Stay-At-Home Order Amid Record Cases, Rising Hospitalizations

SAN MATEO COUNTY (CBS SF) -- As hospitals strain under surging COVID-19 cases, San Mateo County officials on Wednesday urged people to stay home for the holidays.

The county's Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan and County Manager Mike Callagy said during a media briefing that the county's COVID-19 numbers were extremely concerning.

"We haven't been able to mitigate the increase that began around the Thanksgiving holiday time," Srinivasan said. "The strains on hospital capacity are too real."

San Mateo County's COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations have been on the rise since early November, according to state and county data. The county has seen record-high case numbers in December.

In the last week, the county had 2,602 new lab-confirmed cases for a daily average of 372 cases, the highest for any seven-day period.

There were 183 COVID-19 deaths in the county as of Tuesday, with 13 occurring in the last two weeks. Over 100 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, with 62 occupying intensive care unit beds, leaving nine ICU beds available. An additional 88 ICU surge beds are available, depending on staffing.

Srinivasan said surge plans were being executed by every hospital in the county to meet the rising need.

She said most transmission is taking place through household gatherings and asymptomatic transmission. As a result, many people unknowingly spread the virus to family members.

"This is not about blame," Srinivasan said. "We just have to get through in a different way with everyone staying home as much as possible."

Another factor contributing to the virus' spread is that frontline workers who are exposed may return to crowded households, causing spread throughout their families.

Srinivasan urged people to stay at home, avoid mixing households and self-quarantine at the earliest sign of a potential COVID-19 exposure.

"With the level of spread throughout our community, we all have to adhere to the state order that is being imposed," Srinivasan said.

San Mateo County is set to join the Bay Area's mandatory stay-at-home order, which further restricts many businesses and activities, starting Thursday at 11:59 p.m.

The state imposed the order as the Bay Area's regional ICU availability dropped to 12.9 percent, below the state's 15 percent threshold. The order restricts private gatherings, dining and other activities for at least three weeks.

"This is the price we pay because the public is not paying attention to safety and not listening to the mandates and we business owners to pay the price," said President of the Broadway Burlingame Business District John Kevranian.

At Preston's Candies and Ice Cream in Burlingame, time is running out.

"It's going to affect us very much. We don't have a cushion that large corporations have," said Preston's Candies and Ice Cream owner Irene Preston.

Preston keeps churning, and making home-made peanut brittle.  The store has been a staple on Broadway in Burlingame for 74 years.

As the signs of reopening keep changing, Preston says she will comply like she has done from the beginning, even if it means closing her doors.

"I mean, 300,000 people dying is horrendous and we need to do something about it," said Preston.

Looking forward, officials are hopeful about the vaccine but worried about the surge that the Christmas season could bring.

"We are extremely concerned that we'll see a surge in the middle of a surge," Callagy, the county manager, said. "This should be a real indication to everyone out there of what can occur and has occurred when people gather."

"We, in the strongest terms possible, are asking people not to gather this holiday season," he said.

Callagy noted that getting tested and receiving a negative result does not give people a license to gather.

"The testing is only a point in time type of test," Callagy said. "In every situation that you come into contact with someone, you should feel like you have COVID or they have COVID and take the necessary precautions. That means masks, social distancing, washing hands."

Callagy said the county would continue to use its COVID-19 business compliance team to educate businesses about their regulations. So far, the team has visited 450 businesses, given 58 written warnings and issued five administrative citations to repeat violators.

The county will also enforce the regional stay-at-home order as much as possible, but Callagy asked each individual to take action, follow the rules, and stay safe.

"We're going to prevail upon the goodwill of everyone to understand how serious this is. We cannot do it without them," Callagy said.

Two sub-zero freezers slated to store thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 have arrived in San Mateo County, county officials said Wednesday.

The freezers at San Mateo Medical Center will store allotments for the county's health department and for Seton Medical Center, and vaccines for other acute hospitals will be shipped directly to the respective hospitals.

"These freezers are a really big deal only when we look at the Pfizer vaccine because it needs to be stored at -70 degrees while the Moderna vaccine just needs to be freezing," Dr. Anand Chabra, county COVID-19 mass vaccination section chief and Family Health Services medical director, said. "Because of its formulation, in order to be viable it needs to be stored this way and the other thing is that there are no preservatives in there."

People can view Wednesday's announcement of the order on the county website. For more information on the new regional stay-at-home order, visit the California COVID-19 website.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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