California clamps down: Governor announces new restrictions to curb surging coronavirus

A sign requiring customers to wear a mask is posted outside of Modern China Cafe in Walnut Creek on Aug. 16, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff f...

A sign requiring customers to wear a mask is posted outside of Modern China Cafe in Walnut Creek on Aug. 16, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters. | 

By Barbara Feder Ostrov |

As California’s COVID-19 daily case count climbed to nearly 10,000 – a height not seen since early August – Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced tough new restrictions as an “emergency brake” to slow a coming surge that could overwhelm hospitals during the holiday season. 

Most nonessential businesses, restaurants, bars and places of worship will have to close or severely restrict their operations as state officials pushed 40 of California’s 58 counties back into the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s reopening plan starting Tuesday. The dramatic change will affect about 94 percent of Californians. 

“We’re moving from a marathon to a sprint,” Newsom said at a news conference. “These last 10 days have been challenging. We need to be more aggressive, more surgical, more targeted.”

Californians also must wear a mask whenever outside their home, with a few exceptions, in a strengthening of the state’s existing mask mandate, Newsom said.

Newsom also noted that a statewide curfew is being considered and that more restrictions may be coming later this week.

For some counties, test positivity and case rates spiked so dramatically they were pushed back two tiers. Counties entering a more restrictive tier must make changes immediately—no more three-day grace periods for businesses that had reopened.

Although California seemed to have escaped the worst of an alarming national surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations have increased by nearly 50 percent in the past two weeks, Newsom said. The state’s 14-day test positivity rate—a sign of the amount of disease in the community—has jumped nearly 44 percent since Halloween. 

As a result, state officials now will restrict counties’ reopenings more quickly than once every two weeks, depending on their health indicators. 

Newsom also apologized again for his decision to attend a Nov. 6 outdoor birthday party in Napa for one of his political advisers – exactly the type of gathering he has repeatedly urged Californians to avoid. 

“I need to … practice what I preach,” Newsom said, noting that he had been out socially only three times since February. “We’re all human. We all fall short sometimes.”

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