PictureMarin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. Courtesy image.

[UPDATE 1.12.21: Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said this week that the state will be increasing the frequency of its evaluations of the ICU capacity metric that serves as the trigger remaining under the stay at home order. That allows the Bay Area region, which includes Marin, to get out from under the order more quickly than it could have under the previous three-week increments the state had previously been doing its evaluations.]

​With the exception of retail shops, which are operating at a fraction of its usual customer density, just about every major, consumer-facing business sector in Mill Valley is stuck in a crippling holding pattern during the stay-at-home order imposed by the state. Restaurants must rely entirely on takeout and delivery in what is traditionally one of their slowest months of the year, hair and nail salons are shut down and fitness facilities must operate outside only during a wet January.

The stay-at-home order, triggered by a region’s available ICU capacity falling below 15%, officially kicked for the Bay Area region that includes Marin on Dec. 8. According to Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis, it will almost certainly be extended further, as the Bay Area region’s ICU capacity currently sits at around 4%, well below the minimum target. Marin’s ICU capacity is around 10% but is subject to the Bay Area region-wide capacity.

​“We are right now in a crisis of ever-increasing number of cases,” Willis said, pointing to a post-holiday surge that saw an alarming amount of new cases, including 145 on Dec. 30, the highest one-day tally to date. “It’s not surprising but it is disappointing given all of our communication around indoor avoiding indoor. This is unprecedented and the measures we are taking are also unprecedented. Unfortunately that is the reality that we inherit.”

Those unprecedented measures mean that Marin restaurant owners’ Change.org petition, which has garnered more than 6,100 signatures to date, won’t likely achieve the reversal on outdoor dining anytime soon. 


The state is expected to examine the Bay Area region’s ICU capacity data on Jan. 7, Willis said. With the region’s current ICU capacity well below the minimum 15%, “we will not likely be coming out of the state stay-at-home order on January 8.”

State and county officials examine case count data to determine the potential impact on hospitalizations and ICU capacity four weeks out, “and right now the lines are going downward,” Willis said. A region’s stay-at-home order had been subject to a three-week minimum under the order, but will now be analyzed more frequently, meaning that it could be reversed more quickly than three weeks if ICU capacity improves quickly.

The stay-at-home order “is the best policy for reducing a surge in cases,” and “we do not have any margin for increased cases that would occur, even in settings like outdoor dining,” Willis told the Marin County Board of Supervisors. “We encourage residents to support your local restaurants and have that dine-out experience but do so in the safety and  comfort of your household by getting takeout or delivery.”

“There’s lot of energy being directed at the state on this,” Willis said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the state. (The County) would be in violation of state law if we allowed outdoor dining. It is about the fractional contribution of any activity in terms of increasing mobility and thus transmission, and outdoor dining increases the frequency of people moving outside their home and increasing transmission.”

“Reduced transmission in the community is ultimately what we’ll need,” he added.

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