SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is imposing an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases that it fears could tax its health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.
What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires people not working essential jobs to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday. The order will last until Dec. 21 but could be extended if infection rates and disease trends don’t improve.
The curfew covers 94 percent of the state’s nearly 40 million residents. It’s in place in 41 of the state’s 58 counties that have the most significant increases in virus cases and face the most severe restrictions under California’s system for reopening the economy.
It’s a swift escalation just days after the state imposed the tougher restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties. It comes as COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging nationwide ahead of Thanksgiving, when many will be tempted to gather with family and friends.
“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.
It’s the sort of announcement Newsom, a Democrat, would normally make in person. But he was not expected to attend a virtual news conference with the state’s top health officers as he faces intense criticism for recently attending a party. He was at a pricey Napa Valley restaurant with lobbyists despite pleading with residents to avoid gatherings with people from multiple households.
While nonessential businesses must close by 10 p.m., restaurants will be permitted to offer takeout food and people can do some routine activities like walking the dog, officials said. They will still be able to get medical care, pick up prescriptions and take care of other essential needs.
Officials said overnight movements are more likely to involve social activities that bring increased risk of infection, particularly if people drink and let down their guard on precautions like wearing masks and staying a safe distance apart.
It follows the state’s more sweeping lockdown in the spring that affected all residents, day and night.
“We know from our stay at home order this spring, which flattened the curve in California, that reducing the movement and mixing of individuals dramatically decreases COVID-19 spread, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, said in a statement. “We may need to take more stringent actions if we are unable to flatten the curve quickly. Taking these hard, temporary actions now could help prevent future shutdowns.”
Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who is suing the governor over his earlier emergency orders, said the latest move will further harm businesses that are already struggling.
“None of these orders matter unless Californians buy in and change their behavior,” Gallagher said in a statement. “The better policy to respond to this spike in cases is to call on all Californians to step up and make responsible choices to follow basic health guidelines to limit the spread without shackling our freedoms and the economy. A curfew undermines the public’s faith that the guidelines are science-driven.”