SCGA Public Affairs

Update: COVID-19 Update

Friday, December 4, 2020


Unless you’ve been hermetically sealed in a cave the last few days you know that California is on the verge of what some are calling a “shutdown” but those in the know understand as a much milder version of last March’s “stay at home” order.

Faced again with a pandemic curve capable of overtaxing the public health infrastructure’s ability to take care for critically ill patients, both those critically ill with COVID-19 and the myriad maladies that don’t vacations during pandemics, Governor Newsom has instituted a regional protocol in an effort to get out in front of it.

It works like this. Based on the reality that hospital capacity is a regional as opposed to a county-based phenomenon, the Governor has broken the state into five (5) regions as follows:

The Southern California or Region 5 contains the following counties: San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Inyo, and Mono. The lines closely resemble the territory of the SCGA, the exceptions being Kern County, which is in the SCGA but placed in the San Joaquin Valley Region, and Mono and Inyo Counties, which are in NCGA territory but have scant population and few golf courses.

If and when current Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity falls below 15% in any given region, that region and all the counties therein become subject to the terms of a statewide one-size-fits-all set of minimum standards. More about those standards in a moment. Those standards remain in place for 3 weeks, at which time the ICU numbers are reassessed to determine whether the region remains under the statewide order or is able to revert back to whichever of the four tiers the specific counties within the region were in when the new statewide order was applied. That reassessment occurs every 7 days thereafter.

In yesterday’s news conference announcing all of this, Governor Newsom referred to this order and its protocols as the “final surge,” noting that the vaccines provide a very definite “light” at the end of a very dark tunnel. He also made clear that the regional approach has displaced last March’s county-based approach in deference to how hospitals and health care delivery systems actually work. When capacity is reached in any one specific county, the protocol is to lean on neighboring counties and their public health delivery systems to soak up the excess capacity.

As of today, none of the Regions qualifies for the “stay at home” order; however, at least 4 if not all 5 appear destined to qualify in the coming days and weeks. Here are the actual ICU capacity numbers by region:

  • Northern California 18.6%
  • Greater Sacramento 22.0%
  • Bay Area 25.4%
  • San Joaquin 19.7%
  • Southern California 20.6%

Of course, the numbers change every day. And the way they’ve been changing in recent days presages the invocation of the statewide stay at home protocols much sooner than later.

More details and specifics are due over the weekend, but for now, this is what we know of them.

In any region that triggers a Regional Stay Home Order because it drops below 15% ICU capacity, the following sectors would close:

  • Indoor and outdoor playgrounds
  • Indoor recreational facilities
  • Hair salons and barbershops
  • Personal care services
  • Museums, zoos, and aquariums
  • Movie theaters
  • Wineries
  • Bars, breweries, and distilleries
  • Family entertainment centers
  • Cardrooms and satellite wagering
  • Limited services
  • Live audience sports
  • Amusement parks

The following sectors would have additional modifications in addition to 100% masking and physical distancing:

  • Outdoor recreational facilities: Allow outdoor operation only without any food, drink, or alcohol sales. Additionally, overnight stays at campgrounds will not be permitted.
  • Retail: Allow indoor operation at 20% capacity with entrance metering and no eating or drinking in the stores. Additionally, special hours should be instituted for seniors and others with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems.
  • Shopping centers: Allow indoor operation at 20% capacity with entrance metering and no eating or drinking in the stores. Additionally, special hours should be instituted for seniors and others with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems.
  • Hotels and lodging: Allow to open for critical infrastructure support only.
  • Restaurants: Allow only for take-out, pick-up, or delivery.
  • Offices: Allow remote only except for critical infrastructure sectors where remote working is not possible.
  • Places of worship and political expression: Allow outdoor services only.
  • Entertainment production including professional sports: Allow operation without live audiences. Additionally, testing protocol and “bubbles” are highly encouraged.

That is taken verbatim from the state’s web site. If you care to read the entirety of what today constitutes the actual order, please click here.

If you do read the actual order, you’ll discover that the sanctioning of “outdoor recreation” is predicated upon some powerful language about the importance of its maintenance during this critical period.

Given that golf has been a sanctioned outdoor recreational activity in every state and county order since the dawn of the pandemic, this should give you confidence that golf in some recreational form is destined to continue forth even as the state’s five regions come under this strict stay at home order. We employ the phrase, “some recreational form,” because it is not yet entirely clear what if any “additional modifications” may be applied to golf. Our best guess is that at the state level, probably none, but at the various county levels, perhaps yes. We’ll let you know on that count when we know something.

# # # # # # #

Many of you have commented that we have been uncharacteristically silent about the machinations in Los Angeles County this week. For those of you outside that county, suffice it to say that when the Southern California Region comes under the Governor’s stay at home order, the residents of that county, golfers, and non-golfers alike, will barely notice any difference. The state’s stay at home order and the “safer at home” order issued in Los Angeles County November 30 are almost identical, albeit when finalized, the state order is likely to be considerably easier to understand and implement than the confusing and internally contradictory mess Los Angeles County Public Health (DPH) saddled the county’s golf courses with trying to interpret and implement.

That’s not the reason for our uncommon silence since we reported extensively on the order late Sunday afternoon. We did our best to make sense and derive a semblance of order therefrom, and in the subsequent days so did that county’s various municipal systems, daily fee properties and private clubs. They zigged; they zagged. They promulgated; they reversed course. They tried one thing; they tried another. Long Beach, which had long resisted following the lead of the one other city in LA County with a separate health department (Pasadena) in deviating from LA County’s golf prescriptions, gave up that ghost and used the authority of its separate health department to go with a golf order simple to understand and simpler to implement. In short, anything we would have put out during this last week would have misinformed you, something we try our best to avoid at all costs; in this case the cost being silence where something louder was expected.

In the end while different courses/clubs and municipal systems landed on different reconciliations of decidedly confusing and contradictory language, we think that the two big municipal programs in that county – one owned by the City of Los Angeles, the other by the County of Los Angeles – landed on a protocol that is yielding golf play both well within the spirit of the rules as promulgated by DPH and much safer with respect to social distancing and common touch point control than various other activities permitted such as miniature golf, parks, skate parks, bike parks, and public gardens. It’s golf with never more than three persons with whom one has consented to play with, isolated from all others, fully masked at all times, with zero socializing, congregating, dining, or loitering on property. From a public safety and virus transmission perspective about as safe, sane, and pristine as one can imagine.

If LA County DPH were to sit down with these two municipal systems and enshrine what they’re doing in the language of the order, that would go a long way toward providing clarity AND ensuring the maximal social distancing and common touch point control envisaged by the “safer at home” order.

The following nugget of wisdom is running in the lead editorial in all of today’s Southern California News Groups’ newspapers:

  • “Regulation happens, and when it does, it works best for all concerned when companies and governments negotiate rules in harmony and continue to stay in the closest communication about ways forward.”

This editorial isn’t about COVID; it’s about air quality. But it applies equally to all regulatory situations. Most definitely, COVID-19 is always going to pose situations in which the adoption of regulations errs on the side of dispatch. But speed doesn’t obviate all need to confer and communicate. The good news is that most of the region’s offices of public health and emergency services have indeed conferred and communicated with the golf community, particularly that portion of it that is also part of the public sector. Most but not all.

# # # # # # #

Apropos of why we have erred on the side of silence this week is the fact that despite having the best ICU availability numbers, the Bay Area Region decided at 2:30 this afternoon to apply the “safer at home” order voluntarily. Exactly what that is going to mean in regarding “recreational golf” in terms of additional conditions thereon is unclear at this hour. The state hasn’t ventured that far yet regarding any additional conditions on the myriad outdoor recreational activities expressly sanctioned under the statewide order; thus, we can only guess that it will be up to the counties to make that determination. And perhaps up to the golf organizations in the affected counties to proceed armed with the wisdom contained in today’s Southern California News Group lead editorial.

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