(CN) — California health officials have announced a limited curfew beginning this weekend for 41 of its 58 counties amid a dangerous spike in Covid-19 cases and ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Under the curfew, which begins Saturday evening, gatherings and nonessential businesses will have to stop or close by 10 p.m. Health officials hope the new restrictions will curb transmission of Covid-19 by limiting social activities and gatherings that have led to over 1 million coronavirus cases in the Golden State since the pandemic began.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement Thursday the restrictions are a necessary measure to prevent the loss of life.
“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. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said. “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.”
The California Department of Public Health’s limited curfew order lasts through Dec. 21 with a possibility of being extended.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters Thursday the order focuses more on specific activities than previous restrictions have and is designed to be less disruptive to people’s lives.
Nighttime social events and businesses open after curfew may not be well ventilated or could lead to people not wearing masks or physically distancing from each other, Ghaly said.
Residents of counties subject to the order can still walk their pets, order takeout food and go to grocery stories after curfew but any social gatherings — especially Thanksgiving-related events — should end by 10 p.m.
But even the most basic daily activities are riskier today with Covid-19 transmission more widespread across the state and more of the virus present in communities, Ghaly said.
Health officials reported 11,478 new cases Thursday — a 52% increase from the past two weeks — and a statewide 14-day positivity rate of 5%.
“This number is one of caution, one that intensifies our resolve to get it under control,” Ghaly said. “We aren’t sure where the peak will be.”
The state’s 7-day positivity rate is 5.6% and in the past two weeks, hospitalizations from Covid-19 increased 63%. The number of people sent to the ICU after infection jumped 40%.
Ghaly urged residents to take the order seriously — and for counties to enforce it immediately if needed — due to the unprecedented rise in cases.
“We are seeing the surge growing faster and faster and we must address it immediately,” Ghaly said, adding that people should reconsider their holiday gathering plans. “There could be a serious challenge to our hospital system; and not just buildings or beds but also to the staff.”
The move comes after Newsom halted counties’ reopening efforts Monday and said the state is prepping emergency hospitals to deal with the surge. The state also issued a statewide travel advisory and ordered nearly a dozen counties to roll back reopening efforts.
California Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher criticized Thursday’s order, writing on Twitter that the “arbitrary curfew” would hurt struggling businesses.
“The governor likes to tout that his actions are scientifically driven, but evidence simply does not support such drastic action limiting people’s freedom,” Gallagher tweeted. “This virus does not suddenly come out at night. The better policy is to call on all Californians to step up and make responsible choices to follow basic health guidelines to limit the spread without shackling our freedoms and the economy.”
Also on Thursday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 5,031 cases of people infected with Covid-19 — a daily record. The county saw just 1,500 daily cases at the beginning of the month.
LA County has reported 8,975 new cases in the last two days, which a statement by health officials described as a “dangerous acceleration” of cases that is more rapid than the surge the county experienced in July.
The number of people in LA County hospitalized after Covid-19 infection is 1,238, up from 777 on Nov. 2.
In a statement, LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer urged residents to abide by health orders.
“Right now, the kindest thing we can do for our family, friends and neighbors is to protect each other from potentially becoming infected with Covid-19,” Ferrer said. “As cases are surging and hospitalizations are increasing, we need to stay home as much as possible, protect those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions, and stop gathering with people not in our households.”
Officials in nearby Orange County announced an initiative this week to expand Covid-19 testing ahead of the holiday season by making free, in-home test kits available to residents.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said 11,000 kits will be available for pickup next week at clinics in Santa Ana and Anaheim, two cities with high rates of infection.
The county will eventually have 500,000 saliva test kits available and will mail kits to residents who request them.
“By making testing accessible and convenient, we would like you to work that into your holiday practices,” Do said, adding residents should get tested at least two days before and after holiday gatherings.
Clayton Chao, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said any gatherings should be limited to three households in a single space, though he urged loved ones to meet over the internet or by phone instead.
Dr. Irving Steinberg, pharmacotherapeutics and infectious diseases expert at the University of Southern California, agrees our future fight with the virus — especially now with the holidays and cold and flu season upon us — will depend on how we keep our distance from each other.
“Gatherings are difficult. Forgetting even about the super-spreader events, you’re simply talking about people in close proximity to each other,” Steinberg said in a phone interview this week.
Avoiding close contact during a lockdown might be more doable in California where the weather is more agreeable in the winter. But it still comes down to how people treat the space they’re given, Steinberg said.
“When people gather in a group, all of a sudden the geography shrinks and you’ve created density,” said Steinberg. “It’s not 30 people 30 yards from each other, it’s 30 people 30 inches from each other.”