California plans sweeping stay-at-home order as Covid cases surge

<span>Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

California has unveiled plans to issue regional stay-at-home orders for areas in the state where intensive care units are expected to fall below a capacity of 15%, with the vast majority of the state expected to meet that criteria within the next few days.

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, announced the new restrictions on Thursday as cases in the state reached the highest reported since the pandemic began.

“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “If we don’t act now, our death rate will continue to climb.”

The state has been divided into five regions: northern California, the Bay Area, the greater Sacramento area, southern California and the San Joaquin valley. Every region but the Bay Area is expected to reach an available ICU capacity of below 15% within the next two days, Newsom said. The Bay Area should reach that point by mid-December.

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The new stay-at-home order will include restrictions on business and gathering spaces – no salons, no gyms, no indoor worship, no playgrounds. Restaurants will be allowed to offer only take-out or delivery. Retail that is already limited to 20% will be allowed to remain open, but all non-essential travel is restricted.

Newsom acknowledged that the order will be the most restrictive since the original stay-at-home order in March. “This is the most challenging moment since the start of the pandemic,” he said at a news conference.

The nation’s most populous state has been battling to bring a surge in new Covid cases under control. The state reported 18,591 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the daily average to 15,121. On 2 November, the state reported just 14 Covid-related deaths. One month later, the state saw 113 deaths.

Overall, California has reported more than 1.2m cases and more than 19,400 deaths.

Meanwhile hospitals are under increasing pressure, as virus hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled since mid-October. Admissions have risen 86% in the past 14 days, Newsom said.

“Lives are in the balance,” Newsom said. “Lives will be lost unless we do more than we’ve ever done. We are being called to do everything in our power to make the kind of tough decisions that are required to get through the next few months. We will enjoy the other side of this.”

The new restrictions come one day after the Los Angeles mayor warned his city was nearing “a devastating tipping point” and ordered residents to stay in their homes and avoid social gatherings.

The city’s restrictions mirror county-wide guidelines and limit nearly all social gatherings of people from more than a single household. People may “lawfully” leave homes to engage in exempted activities like healthcare operations, supermarkets and restaurants, the directive said. The guidelines also exempt religious services and protests protected by the constitution.

“Our city is now close to a devastating tipping point, beyond which the number of hospitalized patients would start to overwhelm our hospital system, in turn risking needless suffering and death,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti late on Wednesday.

Los Angeles has issued its own stay-at-home order as the state battles to get cases under control.
Los Angeles has issued its own stay-at-home order as the state battles to get cases under control. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Reuters

Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the US with a population of over 3.9 million. Los Angeles county, which is home to the city, has recorded 414,185 infections and a death toll of 7,740, according to LA Public Health, and the region has seen hospitalizations rise sharply in the past few weeks.

Los Angeles county last week imposed a three-week end to outdoor dining, and issued a broader stay-home order taking effect Monday.

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Wednesday that the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to rage across the US, and that the country faced its grimmest health crisis yet over the next few months, before vaccines become widely available. More than 270,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 to date.

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The new rules come as the US hits record Covid deaths and hospitalizations. Yet the months-long pandemic has also brought “Covid fatigue” that has made new restrictions hard to swallow. Newsom and San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, have faced criticism for flouting their own guidelines to dine at the luxurious French Laundry restaurant.

Newsom acknowledged the difficulty in following the rules but urged people to stay vigilant, promising the worst is almost over, and a vaccine is in sight. California will receive 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by mid-December, and the state is finalizing its plan for who will receive the initial doses, he announced.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. We are a few months away from seeing real progress,” Newsom said. “We do not anticipate having to do this once again but we all need to step up and we need to meet this moment head on and do everything we can to stem the tide, bend the curve and do everything we can necessary to get that vaccine into the hands of every Californian in the state.”

Agencies contributed reporting

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