“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”
Newsom’s “emergency brake” will halt reopening plans and put most of the state under the strictest set of rules that keep most schools closed, halt indoor worship and force most indoor business to close or operate at significantly reduced capacity.
Newsom also said he was also strengthening a mask requirement outside homes with limited exceptions, and he was considering a curfew on business hours.
The dramatic rise in cases in November has come at a faster pace than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time. The state became the second in the U.S. last week to surpass 1 million case of the virus.
More than 11 million cases have been recorded nationwide as virus surges almost everywhere. While California has the second-highest number of cases, it is the nation’s most populous state with 40 million residents and ranks 40th in cases per 100,000 residents.
The new 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 followed by reopenings that have been at times curtailed as cases have risen.
Placer County, which stretches from the outskirts of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and will move back into the strictest tier, has threatened not to enforce the state rules.
Likewise, Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, urged constituents north of the capital to ignore the orders that group counties in color-coded categories with various limitations.
“The governor and state bureaucrats can color code counties and change rules as they go, but the basics remain the same: We are all free people who can exercise our freedom responsibly,” Gallagher said in a statement. “I don’t think you should close your business, church or school. I would encourage you to keep them open.”
The state 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. Those warnings have become more forceful in advance of Thanksgiving next week.
Businesses have complained that they have played by the rules yet had to pay the price for residents who didn’t do so.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health secretary, said Monday that businesses have also been part of the problem, mentioning restaurants where friends gather for meals and drinks.
Newsom himself apologized Monday for failing to follow his own rules by attending a friend’s birthday party this month at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in wine country north of San Francisco.
Newsom said his latest action, which takes effect Tuesday, will put 41 of the state’s 58 counties in the strictest of the four-tier system for reopening that is based on virus cases and infection rates. Under the new reordering, only two tiny counties, Mariposa and Alpine, remain in the least restrictive tier
Eyal Oren, epidemiologist at San Diego State University, said the government’s measures could help limit the spread of the virus and may convey to the public the need to take seriously measures like keeping their distance and wearing face coverings. He said the state is largely trying to limit transmission to ensure the health care system can treat people who get very ill.
“People might feel like these are draconian but ultimately you have to remember what they’re trying to do,” he said. “We can’t give everybody a drug right now. We can’t give everybody a vaccine right now.”
On Friday, Newsom and the governors of Oregon and Washington on Friday issued a travel advisory urging their residents to avoid non-essential travel and to quarantine for two weeks after arriving on the West Coast from another state or country.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also announced a two-week “freeze” to limit restaurants to offering only take-out food and close gyms. She said the travel advisory could become a requirement if cases remain at current levels.
Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered gyms, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums and zoos to shut down indoor operations.
Under Newsom’s latest actions, 94% of Californians will face the strictest set of rules that call for halting indoor church services, indoor dining and indoor gym workouts. Malls and stores can stay open at 25% of capacity. Schools that haven’t already reopened cannot do so.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner criticized allowing shopping over schooling.
“Our priorities are misplaced when malls receive more focus than the public schools that provide children with the foundation of literacy, math and critical thinking skills they need to succeed in school and in life,” Beutner said. “Without significant changes in priorities and a greater focus on public education it’s unlikely that schools in Los Angeles will reopen for in-person instruction anytime soon.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Taxin in Orange County and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.