California Locked Down Under Curfew Starting Saturday

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a stay-at-home order Thursday that will require nonessential work and gatherings to stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties with high rates of coronavirus transmission.

The order is slated to take effect Saturday at 10 p.m. for one month. It will apply to counties in the purple tier of the state’s reopening structure.

“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 said in a statement. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

In the Bay Area, the order will apply to the six counties that are currently in the purple tier, which are Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. The remaining three — San Mateo, Marin and San Francisco counties — are in the red tier.

Essential activities, such as going to the grocery store, picking up a takeout order or walking one’s dog will be allowed during the overnight curfew, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Department of Health and Human Services. People going to and from essential jobs, including in health care and critical infrastructure, will be allowed.

Ghaly said the order is enforceable by the counties, but it’s unclear whether people or businesses violating the order will be fined or cited. Ghaly said the intention is not to target individuals who may be returning home from a nonessential gathering during the holidays, for example, who may be out slightly past 10 p.m. The order will mean that in counties in the purple tier, outdoor dining and bars should stop services at 10 p.m., Ghaly said.

The announcement comes amid soaring infections, rising hospitalizations and a looming holiday that has the nation on edge. Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a rare news conference to announce new guidelines recommending against holiday travel.

Statewide, California is seeing a record-high rate of new daily cases, averaging more than 10,000 cases per day over a seven-day period ending Wednesday. And the test positivity rate has increased from 3.3% in the 14 days leading up to Nov. 5 to 5% over the past two weeks, indicating that spread is quickly accelerating.https://playlist.megaphone.fm/?e=SFO7044291749

Hospitalizations in California have nearly doubled, from about 2,300 one month ago to 4,500 as of Wednesday, according to state data.

Experts say the science behind curfews during a pandemic is relatively scant. One French study found that a curfew that began Oct. 30 decreased spread among people older than 60, but did not impact spread among younger people.

“As far as I know the disease is just as deadly between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. as it is from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said in a statement. “So, I cannot support this tactic since there is no scientific evidence that shows a curfew works. Stick to the science and wear your damn masks. The rules should be the same night or day. Period.”

While the Bay Area has fared better than most major U.S. metropolitan areas, the region is seeing some concerning spikes that recently prompted local health officials to strongly urge residents against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. On Thursday, officials with the CDC joined in that plea, holding a rare news conference to announce new guidelines recommending against holiday travel.

The nine Bay Area counties averaged more than 1,000 new cases per day last week, an increase of 36% over the previous week. Before recording 1,342 cases last Monday, it had been 67 days since the Bay Area reached 1,000 in a single day. For the week that ended Nov. 1, the average was less than 540 new cases per day. The average number of new cases per day in November has been 885 compared with 480 in October, which is nearly an 85% increase.

If people travel anyway, they should wear masks, stay 6 feet away from people not in their household, and frequently wash their hands with soap and water, the CDC recommends.

The health agency issued further, detailed guidelines, including the need to stay masked, avoid indoor spaces and retain proper distancing in public.

“I know everybody wants to know what to do for Thanksgiving, and the basic answer — to be the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving — is not to do it,” Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, told The Chronicle this week.

Public health officials are worried for good reason. Case counts have exploded across the country, particularly in the Midwest. That surge is now spreading across the country, even into California, which had managed to keep cases at a relatively stable level for much of the past two months.

But the highly anticipated winter surge is clearly spreading the virus now at a rapid pace, most everywhere.

As of Thursday night, more than 1,900 Bay Area residents had died of COVID-19, according to county data. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the Bay Area have increased 69% since the beginning of November. Nearly 500 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in the region as of Wednesday — the highest number since mid-September.

Nationally, the United States has reported more deaths (more than 252,000) and cases (more than 11.7 million) than any other country in the world, by a wide margin.

COVID-19 deaths across the country are expected to increase in the coming weeks, with 7,300 to 16,000 fatalities likely to be reported in the week ending Dec. 12, the CDC said Thursday. The agency’s compilation of national models predicts that a total of 276,000 to 298,000 COVID-19 deaths, counted since the start of the pandemic, will be recorded in the U.S. by that date.https://playlist.megaphone.fm/?p=SFO1561404617

Despite those stark numbers, the politicization of the disease remains evident across the country, with some people downplaying its danger.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said his frustration “borders on pain” that people deny the hard facts of the virus surge worsening across the nation.

“Flu doesn’t even come close” to the more than 250,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths so far, he said; the United States typically reports roughly 40,000 flu deaths each year. “Either people don’t want to look at the data or they look at the data and they say it’s fake. No, it isn’t fake. … This is a global issue,” he said in a USA Today interview. “I mean, let’s go, folks. What about that don’t you understand?”

Without mentioning President Trump, who downplays the virus, Fauci said, “Enough is enough with this political divisiveness, with this claiming that people are making things up. Get rid of these ridiculous conspiracy theories and realize this is a public health crisis.”

Fauci said there’s no need to “shut down as a nation” but people need to get on board with wearing masks and following distancing and refrain from gathering indoors.

Despite all the warnings, many Americans are still planning to get together with family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Some believe getting tested will help them stay safe, although most public health officials say the lag times between testing and results make this strategy an inexact science and a bad practice.

Those seeking coronavirus tests ahead of holiday travel are experiencing lengthier lines, including in parts of the Bay Area. Longer waiting times for results complicate efforts to slow the pandemic as people try to get tested ahead of family gatherings. Testing sites from New York to Wisconsin to Oregon are reporting lines stretching three to four hours, with results taking as long as five days, the Washington Post reports.

The nation is seeing something of a “split screen” with the virus, with increasingly grim news of deaths and hospitalizations happening at the same time promising developments in vaccines and treatments are emerging, Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine, said during a virtual meeting Thursday.

“We’re seeing a horror movie of epic proportions, of a quarter-million dead in the U.S., hospitals filling up and some beginning to become overwhelmed,” he said. “One half of the split screen is incredibly distressing, and the other half feels like a rom com.”

The recent news that two experimental coronavirus vaccines are more than 90% effective, according to early data announced by the vaccine developers Pfizer and Moderna, is “quite remarkable, almost beyond the dreams we might’ve had a few months ago,” he said.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.