Many Californians prepare for sweeping new virus lockdown
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Many Californians were preparing Sunday for a new stay-at-home order that bars restaurant dining, shutters salons and limits retail in an effort to curb spiraling coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
The new rules that take effect before midnight in the vast region of Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a large swath of the Central Valley also prohibit residents from gathering with people not in their households. But some law enforcement officials said they don’t plan to enforce the rules and are counting on residents to voluntarily wear masks and practice physical distancing to protect themselves during the pandemic.
In Orange County, Sheriff Don Barnes said deputies would be dispatched to calls related to potential criminal acts and to protect life and property — not to solely enforce mask-wearing or these latest stay-at-home orders.
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes said in a statement over the weekend. “Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only.”
With coronavirus cases rising, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a plan to divide the state into five regions and use intensive care unit capacity as a trigger for widespread closures.
It is the most restrictive order since Newsom imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March and comes as the state grapples with soaring COVID-19 infections that have driven hospitalizations above 9,000 and the seven-day positivity rate near 10%.
The rules are expected to affect about eight in 10 California residents and will remain in place at least three weeks, meaning the lockdown will cover the Christmas holiday.
California’s Department of Public Health imposed the order Saturday after intensive care unit capacity in Southern California and Central Valley hospitals fell below a 15% threshold. Five San Francisco Bay Area counties opted to do the same even before the state mandate kicks in for their region, and the measures there will last at least through Jan. 4, a week longer than the state’s timeline.
Much of California is on the brink of the same restrictions following an explosive rise in infections that began in October and is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.
Under the measures, schools that are currently open can continue to provide in-person instruction. Retailers including supermarkets and shopping centers can operate with just 20% capacity while restaurant dining and hair and nail salons must close.
The order deals a blow to small businesses that have struggled to survive over nearly a year in which they were repeatedly ordered to close then allowed to reopen but with complex safety precautions. Many business owners have said they can’t afford to comply and questioned whether the virus was really spreading at their locations.
In a scathing rebuke of the latest orders, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco called the business closures ridiculous. “I believe that all jobs are essential to someone,” he said.
Andrew Gruel, executive chef and founder of Slapfish seafood restaurant, pointed to examples of elected officials including Newsom dining out as they called for restrictions on eateries like the one Gruel started in Huntington Beach. He said he’ll stay open for patio dining unless health officials can show doing so leads to a spike in cases.
“No one is following their own rules. How serious can those rules be if they’re not following their own rules?” Gruel asked in a video posted on social media.