California Warns of Lockdowns in Most of State Within Days
(Bloomberg) -- California, the first state to tell residents to stay home to fight the coronavirus pandemic, is about to do it again.
With cases soaring, Governor Gavin Newsom said he will impose shelter-at-home orders on a regional basis once hospitals start running short of intensive-care capacity. Four of the state’s five areas may hit the threshold within a day or two, he said at a briefing Thursday.
“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” he said.
The world’s fifth-biggest economy is heading back toward a shutdown as it grapples with its fastest increase in Covid-19 infections since the pandemic began. California added almost 300,000 cases in November alone, according to Johns Hopkins University data, while the test positivity rate is at the highest since a summer surge. Hospitalizations are at a record and health officials have warned they may double or triple by Christmas.
The new order would take effect once a region’s hospitals had only 15% of their intensive care unit beds available, and last at least three weeks. The San Francisco Bay area is the one region of the state that may have more time before hospitals overwhelmed -- but it will likely hit lockdown thresholds by the end of the month, Newsom said.
The new orders would be less stringent than the one California imposed in the spring, which closed all nonessential businesses. In the latest rules, indoor retailers and shopping centers would be open at 20% capacity, and entertainment production and sports could operate without live audiences.
Still, the order would require the closure of businesses such as hair salons, movie theaters, casinos and wineries, as well as recreational areas including outdoor playgrounds and zoos.
Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people and almost a third of California’s confirmed infections, this week took the lead in issuing new stay-at-home measures. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday night imposed lockdown orders -- though with several exemptions -- as the city approaches a “devastating tipping point.”
Newsom characterized the latest measures as the state’s final fight against the virus as several vaccines near approval and distribution. The state expects to receive the first 327,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from Dec. 12 to Dec. 15.
“We have a light at the end of the tunnel with these vaccines, but we need to take seriously this moment,” he said. “Lives will be lost unless we do more than we’ve ever done.”
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