CA stay-at-home order: San Mateo health officials defend decision to not shut down just yet

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- As five Bay Area counties implemented harsher COVID-19 regulations this week, San Mateo County is holding off.

"San Mateo will not at this time be issuing a new local stay-at-home order and will continue to work with business and community leaders on adherence to existing guidelines," county officials said in a statement last week.

On Monday, Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow released a statement that went into detail as to why San Mateo County will not be joining San Francisco, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda and Marin counties in the new stay-at-home orders.

"Being in the purple tier, the state has already put significant restrictions on businesses and the public space in San Mateo County," Morrow said in the statement. "I think these greater restrictions are likely to drive more activity indoors, a much riskier endeavor."

RELATED: 5 Bay Area counties enacting stay-at-home order starting Sunday, not waiting for state's timeline

The statement emphasized that residents must continue to follow the existing measures under the state's purple tier, and Morrow believes stricter rules will not change habits.

"I think people should stay at home, avoid all non-essential activities, wear masks, and not gather with anyone outside their households," he added. "I've been saying this for about 10 months now. If you didn't listen to my (and many others) entreaties before, I don't think you'll likely change your behavior based on a new order. I appreciate that some of you think I (or the government) have magical abilities to change everyone's behavior, but I assure you, I (we) do not."

Morrow also reasoned that a certain set of numbers should not be the basis for stricter rules.

"I don't see us (governmental public health) looking at data other than case rates and positivity rates and hospital rates in order to make balanced decisions. When you only look at one thing, you only see one thing," Morrow said.

WATCH: San Mateo County holds off on early stay-at-home order as other Bay Area counties tighten restrictions
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As five Bay Area counties prepare to implement harsher COVID-19 regulations on Sunday, San Mateo County is holding off.



But San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said he respectfully disagrees.

"We have to take a pause, and that is going to require additional sacrifice," said Canepa, urging county health officials to follow the lead of neighboring counties.

"The numbers might be different here in San Mateo County, but remember the virus doesn't know the difference between county lines," he stressed.

The new stay-at-home restrictions that the other Bay Area counties are following would eliminate all indoor and outdoor dining, restricting restaurants to takeout only. Bars and wineries would have to close, along with hair salons, nail salons and other personal care services.

MAP: Map: CA counties that can, can't reopen under new rules
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Dr. Curtis Chan, San Mateo County deputy health officer joined ABC7 News Anchor Kristen Sze on "Getting Answers" and said, "our data doesn't show that there's a lot of transmission happening in our county through for example, barbershops and nail salons. There isn't a lot of transmission happening in playgrounds."

In Contra Costa County where they enacted stricter stay-at-home rules on Sunday, Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said, "I and other county health officers in the Bay Area don't think we can wait for the state's new restrictions to go into effect later this month. We must act swiftly to save as many lives as we can. This is an emergency."

"Our biggest fear all along is that we won't have a bed for you or your mother or your grandmother or grandfather when they get sick," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. "(It's) the reality we'll be facing unless we slow the spread. The measures we've tried so far simply haven't bent the curve the way we need it to."

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Dr. Morrow said if and when Gov. Gavin Newsom issues the regional stay-at-home order for the Bay Area, San Mateo County will support it. For now, he's hoping that the following data will make people think twice about their decisions.

"Right now, based on modeling data, there are an estimated 8 to 15,000 active cases in San Mateo County capable of transmitting the infection to others," Morrow said. "These active infections are EV-ER-Y-where. Literally, they are in every corner of the County. The chance of you encountering this virus anywhere is much, much higher than it was just a few weeks ago. Many people are asymptomatic and can transmit the virus unknowingly. And these asymptomatic people may very well be the ones you are most like to let your guard down with, your family and friends."

San Mateo's deputy health officer Dr.Chan says no one knows the "right answer" to change social behavior, but in the meantime, the county is focusing on educating the public, listening to the community and looking at data.

"But make no mistake, the other counties that have sounded the alarm, they are correct, we need to have a very loud alarm," Dr. Chan said. "And I'm not saying that our approach is absolutely the best approach. And we just need to be humble about this and continue to modify as this pandemic surges."

Read Dr. Scott Morrow's full statement on his decision here.

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