November 30, 2020

California’s governor pulls ‘emergency brake’ on reopening amid Covid surge

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/16/california-coronavirus-surge-roll-back-reopening

California will dramatically roll back its reopening efforts, the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, announced on Monday, saying he was pulling the “emergency brake” amid a troubling surge in cases.

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The changes, which take effect Tuesday, will see more than 94% of California’s population and most businesses across the state return to the most restrictive tier of rules aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. The state is also strengthening its guidance on masks; Newsom announced face coverings would now be required outside people’s homes with limited exceptions.

The move comes as daily case rates have doubled in California over the last 10 days. The first week of November saw the fastest rate of increase in cases in the state since the start of the pandemic – 51.3% – Newsom said. The state reported 9,890 cases in the last 24 hours, with a seven-day average of 8,198.

Last week, California became the second state to surpass 1m total cases.

“Every age group, every demographic, racial, ethnic, every part of the state, we are seeing case rates increase and positivity rates increase,” Newsom said in a press conference on Monday. “It’s no longer concentrated in just a handful of counties. We are seeing community spread broadly throughout the state of California.”

The rapid spread of the virus “could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes,” the governor warned.

The new statewide measures come as some county officials in Los Angeles said they were considering implementing a curfew in order to slow the spread of the virus.

A curfew would mean that “businesses do not have to close again, but would instead have limited hours for essential activities”, said Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the county board of supervisors, in a statement.

A curfew is not expected immediately. If Los Angeles can reduce the growth in case numbers through voluntary changes, including limiting or cancelling Thanksgiving gatherings, more restrictions may not be necessary, said Barbara Ferrer, LA county public health director, on Monday.

Cars line up for Covid testing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.



Cars line up for Covid testing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

In San Francisco, mayor London Breed said that non-essential offices “will have to halt indoor operations until further notice”, and return to “100% remote” operations.

Fitness centers, including gyms, “may remain open at 10% capacity”, she wrote.

The troubling rise in cases in November across California has come at a faster pace than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time, health officials said.

Statewide, about half of the people who have died from coronavirus are Latino, even though Latinos make up slightly less than 40% of the population, according to state public health data. In Los Angeles county, the highest rates of hospitalization for coronavirus have been among Pacific Islanders and Latinos, according to Ferrer.

The new statewide rules are certain to rankle business owners such as restaurateurs and gym owners, who have been struggling to get back on their feet after lengthy shutdowns. Businesses have complained that they have played by the rules, yet had to pay the price for residents who didn’t do so.

While a surge was predicted with the flu season, contact tracers have identified private household gatherings as a major source of spread. California has blamed the spike in cases mainly on people who have grown fatigued coping with the virus and have ignored public health warnings to not socialize with friends and family members.

Newsom himself has faced blowback after failing to follow his own rules by attending a friend’s birthday party at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in Napa county, north of San Francisco.

“It was a little larger group than I had anticipated,” Newsom admitted Monday. “I made a bad mistake. Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up, walked back, got in my car and drove back to my house. Instead, I chose to sit there with my wife and a number of other couples that were outside my household.

“I want to apologize to you because I need to preach and practice, not just preach and not practice,” he continued. “You should expect nothing more of me and I expect more of myself. When I say minimize mixing, I mean it.”

In Los Angeles, young people ages 18 through 29 have the highest rate of coronavirus cases, Ferrer, the county public health director, said, even as coronavirus hospitalizations and fatalities are concentrated among much older people.

“Young people are spreading the virus with disastrous results for our elderly,” she said.

Tents from a Covid testing site in San Francisco sit in front of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge.



Tents from a Covid testing site in San Francisco sit in front of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

Ferrer said there were groups of young people who got coronavirus tests on Thursday, so they could get negative results by Saturday morning, and use that as an excuse to hang out together over the weekend.

“Please don’t use testing as a way to say, ‘If I’m negative, I don’t have to follow any of the protections’,” Ferrer said. “Testing on Thursday so you can party on Saturday, that doesn’t work.”

It also was a waste of valuable testing resources, she added.

Young people “need to do a better job of adjusting their behavior to take into account the serious risk they’re creating for others”.

Official warnings have been more forceful in advance of Thanksgiving next week. In Los Angeles, the public health director bluntly told residents to “cancel travel” for the holidays, and, for any gathering with people from more than one household, to “celebrate outdoors”.

“Is it worth it? The infections that come at Thanksgiving will lead to people in the hospital at Christmas. That’s the math,” San Francisco’s Breed wrote on Twitter.

California’s new statewide restrictions come as other states, including Michigan and Washington, have announced renewed efforts to combat the coronavirus as more than 11 million cases of Covid-19 have now been reported in the United States.

Michigan’s governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and suspended organized sports including the football playoffs in an attempt to curb the state’s spiking case numbers. The order also restricts indoor and outdoor residential gatherings, closes some entertainment facilities and bans gyms from hosting group exercise classes.

In Washington, which was among the first states to report a Covid-19 case and death in early 2020, all 39 of its counties have been paused in either the second or third phase of a four-stage reopening plan that started in early May after a lockdown that began in March.

The Associated Press contributed reporting