Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s most aggressive steps since March to head off the coronavirus pandemic, saying it will impose sweeping stay-at-home orders region by region when hospitals become overburdened.
With cases and hospitalizations rising sharply in the state, Mr. Newsom portrayed the move as a final push to get through a difficult winter before vaccines arrive.
“This is the final surge,” he said in a news conference. “This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”
The new orders will take effect when the intensive care units in a region’s hospitals fill to more than 85 percent of capacity. None of the state’s five regions have reached that threshold yet, but some are expected to this week, officials said.
[See which counties are in each region, and find out which activities are exempted here.]
Residents will be required to stay home except for essential tasks and outdoor exercise. Most businesses will have to shut down, including in-person dining, salons and sports events. Hotels in affected areas will be allowed to operate only “in support of critical infrastructure services.”
Religious services will be allowed outdoors, and any schools that have been allowed to reopen can continue to operate.
In a change from the strict stay-at-home orders the state imposed in the spring, Mr. Newsom said parks and beaches would remain open, and he encouraged residents to go outside and use them, and even to take outdoor fitness classes.
Some cities and counties in the state have already imposed new restrictions as cases have exploded. Los Angeles County issued a similar stay-at-home order last week. Though some municipalities within the county balked, like Pasadena and Beverly Hills, the City of Los Angeles followed up with its own strict stay-at-home order earlier on Thursday.
“My message couldn’t be simpler: It’s time to hunker down,” Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said. “It’s time to cancel everything. And if it isn’t essential, don’t do it.”
Mr. Newsom spoke on Thursday from his home, where he was still under quarantine after three of his children had come into contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus. His office said on Wednesday that a staff member had also tested positive, but had not been in recent contact with Mr. Newsom.
Californians have been on a kind of emotional roller coaster ride since the pandemic began, careening between relief that the state’s early stay-at-home orders helped rein in the virus and alarm that cases surged again despite a slow reopening tailored to each county’s conditions.
[Read about the state’s reopening tiers.]
On Monday, leaders said that new restrictions were in the works, and the governor released dire projections showing that without them, the state’s intensive care units would be overloaded by the middle of this month. Hospitals in hard-hit regions like the San Joaquin Valley, where many low-paid essential workers live in crowded conditions, have been filling up rapidly for weeks.
“Everything is on the table, in terms of how we guide the state through this,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said Monday.
But after months of hearing that businesses can safely operate outdoors and with proper precautions, many Californians are pushing back against new restrictions. And a growing list of elected leaders have been caught flouting the rules they’ve urged their constituents to follow.
As in March, the rollout of new restrictions, particularly in Los Angeles County, has been confusing, and enforcement has been spotty.
Mr. Newsom said on Thursday, as he did repeatedly in the spring, that the state would withhold money from counties that refuse to enforce stay-at-home orders.
“We didn’t want to be punitive, but we wanted to be firm,” he said.
[Read about how experts said help for California’s hard-hit Central Valley came too late.]
That approach, however, has drawn criticism in the past for leading to piecemeal, inconsistent enforcement.
Advocates and experts have also criticized a lack of enforcement of protections for essential workers, which has added to the vulnerability of the low-paid Californians who were already more heavily affected by the virus than most others.
Here’s what else to know today
The rapidly advancing Bond Fire forced mandatory evacuation orders in parts of Orange County. The fire grew to over 7,200 acres by Thursday afternoon with zero percent containment. Much of Southern California is subject to dangerous fire conditions as Santa Ana winds are expected to whip up through the weekend and utility shut-offs affecting hundreds of thousands of people are planned. [Los Angeles Times]
Poor air quality and evacuations from the Bond Fire have caused several school districts in Orange County to shift to distance learning. [The Orange County Register]
Mayor London Breed of San Francisco and Governor Newsom are just a few of the politicians who were recently shamed over their actions during the pandemic, but there’s a larger pattern of state leaders flouting social restrictions. [Politico]
Parents in Los Angeles are fuming over the county’s decision to close playgrounds but keep retail stores and tattoo parlors open. “I need a place to take my kid,” one parent said. “She’s active. She needs to play.” [Los Angeles Times]
Contact tracing during the height of the pandemic requires patience and perseverance. Empathy and $20 gift cards are a critical tool against fear and skepticism. [Los Angeles Times]
Early application numbers for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are down throughout the state, and there are now fears that the pandemic may be preventing first-time college students from applying for financial aid. [EdSource]
Warner Bros. will release all of its 2021 movies on streaming and in theaters at the same time. HBO Max subscribers will get instant access to 17 movies in total, a slate that easily represents more than $1 billion in production costs. [The New York Times]
Facebook said it would remove posts that contain claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts. It’s the most aggressive stance against misinformation about vaccines that the company has taken so far. [The New York Times]
A third unexplained monolith has been found, this time placed atop Pine Mountain in Atascadero, Calif. Although it resembles the first monolith found in Utah, the mysterious metal structure was not firmly set into the ground. [Vice]
And Finally …
Of all the many industries buffeted by California’s reopenings and closings in the last several months, restaurants have perhaps felt some of the most severe whiplash. In Los Angeles County, restaurants had been serving diners outdoors — safely, it seemed — for months, when they were ordered to close back down as cases soared and hospitals filled. And now, another wider restaurant shutdown is probably imminent.
If you work at a restaurant, we want to hear from you. If you’ve lost work, have you been able to get unemployment? Did you go back to work when restaurants reopened? Do you feel safe working outdoors?
Email us at [email protected] and we may reach out to speak more.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.