As the number of daily new COVID-19 cases doubled in the past 10 days in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced he was pulling the “emergency brake” on sector reopenings, dramatically scaling them back in an effort to curb the virus’ spread.
“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement. “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.”
The major change comes to California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” the state’s color-coded, four-tiered system that has been guiding business reopenings since August. Counties can now be moved back a tier after one week — not two, as the guidance previously called for, Newsom said. Additionally, counties can be moved back multiple tiers at once.
And whereas state officials had been announcing the tier changes every Tuesday, they will be doing so multiple times a week going forward, according to the governor.
To underscore that point, he announced that 30 counties will be going backward, with 41 of the state’s 58 counties now in the most-restrictive purple tier. Just three weeks ago, only nine counties were in that stage where many non-essential indoor businesses are closed.
Among those back in the purple stage are Ventura and Orange counties, which had previously been in the slightly-less restrictive red tier.
The move means more restrictions will be imposed on already struggling businesses, forcing some sectors to close outright again and others to modify their operations — something that is certain to rankle business owners who have been diligently trying to get back on their feet following lengthy shutdowns.
The state has blamed the spike primarily on people who have grown fatigued coping with the virus and have ignored public health warnings to not socialize with friends and family members outside their household.
Businesses have complained that they have played by the rules yet had to pay the price for residents who didn’t do so.
But, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, research has shown businesses have been sources of virus transmission. As an example, he cited friends gathering in close proximity for meals and drinks.
Newsom said the state will also be assessing whether to order a statewide curfew, and that’s he’s currently looking at comprehensive studies from different countries on the efficacy of that strategy.
“We have a lot of questions about what that looks like, what that doesn’t look like, who does it impact, who doesn’t it impact,” he said. “What does a real curfew mean in terms of just certain kinds of industry and business activities?”
The data from those studies will ultimately guide any decision about whether to implement a curfew, the governor added.
Newsom’s announcements come just days after California issued a travel advisory urging those entering the state to self-quarantine for two weeks amid a steep increase in cases ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The guidance applies to those engaging in non-essential travel, such as tourism and recreational trips, according to the California Department of Public Health advisory.
Those traveling for work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care and safety and security won’t have to quarantine.
On Friday, hours after the advisory was issued, Ghaly emphasized that the action is not a ban or a restriction.
“We chose to go with an advisory because for many, many months we’ve recognized that this partnership with all Californians to choose to do things that we know reduce spread is an important one,” Ghaly explained.
Last week, California became the second state to cross the threshold of 1 million COVID-19 cases, as the U.S. has recorded at least 11 million cases since the start of the pandemic.
The state is currently experiencing its highest case rate increase yet — bigger than even the surge in early summer — with a one-week spike of 51.3%, Newsom said.
California reported a single-day case total of 9,890 on Sunday, and the seven-day average at 8,081 new cases daily.
The testing positivity rate is at 4.6% over the past 14 days, and 5% over the past seven days.
The spike is affecting all populations in every part of the state, according to the governor.
“Every age group, every demographic, racial, ethnic, in every part of the state — we are seeing case rates increase and positivity rates increase as well, no longer concentrated in just a handful of counties,” he said. “We are seeing community spread broadly now … throughout the state.”