California Imposes Late-Night Curfew to Fight Virus Surge

California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a curfew on the vast majority of residents to curb coronavirus transmission, deepening measures to stop a rapid outbreak while stopping short of a full lockdown.

People in counties designated as having a widespread outbreak -- areas that encompass 37 million people, or 94% of the population -- will have to stop nonessential work and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., according to a statement from Newsom’s office Thursday. The order will take effect on Nov. 21 and last for a month.

The move reflects growing alarm among California officials as the third wave of coronavirus infections to hit the state gathers momentum. In recent days they have urged residents to avoid travel and scale back Thanksgiving gatherings -- or cancel them altogether. On Monday, Newsom put the majority of counties in the most restrictive-tier for economic activity, requiring many indoor businesses to shut or reduce capacity.

With new cases now rising even faster than in July, Newsom said Thursday that more drastic measures are needed. California’s average rate of new cases has almost doubled since the start of November, while hospitalizations have jumped 64% in two weeks. Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous, set a daily record with more than 5,000 new infections on Thursday.

“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,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in the statement. “We are sounding the alarm.”

California joins states around the country in rapidly enacting curbs amid a limited virus response from the federal government. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a similar nighttime stay-at-home order Thursday, Michigan this week imposed a partial shutdown and cities including Chicago and Philadelphia have tightened restrictions.

Curbing Socializing

The California order’s impact on businesses will be limited, and appears intended largely to prevent late-night socializing. Restaurants will need to close outdoor dining by 10 p.m., but they can continue offering takeout afterward, Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said at a press conference Thursday. People working overnight shifts in factories, warehouses or logistics jobs won’t be affected. Grocery stores open 24 hours will be able to stay that way.

Ghaly said the state had learned enough about coronavirus transmission that a more sweeping lockdown like the one imposed in March wasn’t necessary -- at least for now.

“We know, and we’ve seen in the past, that Covid goes from zero to 60 miles per hour very quickly,” he said. “Further restrictions are what we hope to avoid. But all tools are on the table.”

Newsom didn’t appear at Thursday’s press conference. He is still weathering criticism for attending a friend’s birthday dinner Nov. 6 at a famed wine country restaurant, the French Laundry. He has apologized repeatedly, saying he and his wife should have left when they saw how many people were there.

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